The number of students enrolled at Bend-La Pine Schools has grown again this school year, but it’s the smallest population increase since 2009, according to preliminary data released by the school district.

As of Tuesday, there are 18,428 students enrolled in the Bend-La Pine school district, a 0.3 percent increase from October 2017, when the district gained 341 new students. The district grew by 500 students in the fall of 2016.

The numbers released Tuesday will likely change some when the district finalizes its tally Oct. 1, said Brad Henry, chief operations and financial officer for the district. “It shouldn’t change much from what we’re looking at now,” Henry said.

The district gained 53 students between Oct. 2, 2017, and Tuesday — the smallest increase since 2009, when the district shrunk by 0.7 percent and lost 117 students.

The preliminary enrollment numbers show that while the number of middle and high school students has grown since October (by 138 and 165 students, respectively) the elementary school population has decreased by 179 students. However, there are still more elementary students (7,900) than in the district’s middle or high schools (4,406 and 5,568, respectively).

Henry said the district expected the decrease in elementary students — a drop due to lower birth rates during the recession.

Most schools didn’t meet the projected populations, but there were some exceptions. At 463 students, La Pine High School has 64 more kids in its building than anticipated. Henry called this the “biggest surprise.”

Because the state partly funds districts based on the number of students enrolled, Bend-La Pine’s budget is dependent on the projections matching the actual amount of students in desks. However, Henry said the district should be fine if the population is below its projections, as it has reserve funds.

Both Summit and Bend high schools were over capacity by 66 and 24 students, respectively. High Desert Middle School was also overfilled, with 41 students over capacity. Meanwhile, the two elementary schools closest to where the district will open its newest elementary at the start of the 2019 school year, Lava Ridge and High Lakes, were both close to capacity.

Henry said he didn’t know exactly why the district’s growth slowed down this year.

“It’s hard to put a reason on one year of data,” he said.

Bend-La Pine Board Chairman Andy High said rising housing costs in Bend might have driven some families away from moving to the district.

“We’ve priced working families out of this community,” he said. “Young families obviously can’t afford to move here. It’s concerning.”

Regardless of the reason, Superintendent Shay ­Mikalson said he didn’t mind having a bit of a slowdown in student growth this year.

“We’ve been growing at a rate that, frankly, is really difficult to make sure that we’re providing all the facilities and all the supports we need for students,” he said. “If growth can be slow and steady, we believe we can manage that more effectively than when we see these large areas of growth.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7854; jhogan@bendbulletin.com

21213229