By Kailey Fisicaro

The Bulletin

Bend-La Pine Schools has grown again this school year, gaining 341 new students in fall 2017.

The increase brings the district’s total enrollment to 18,375 students and returns the school district to its trend of growing about 2 percent each year. Last year, Bend-La Pine officials were surprised when the district grew closer to 3 percent from 2015-16 to 2016-17.

Last fall, Bend-La Pine Schools gained 500 new students, instead of the projected 350.

Projections this year were closer to actual enrollment, Brad Henry, the district’s chief operations and financial officer, confirmed Tuesday. Bend-La Pine expected about 320 new students.

The formula the school district uses is a complicated one that takes several factors into account. Bend-La Pine looks at the birth rate in local areas five years ago to predict kindergarten and enrollment history, including how many of the babies born in the area five years before the previous school year ended up in Bend-La Pine schools.

District officials also know there tend to be enrollment spikes in first, sixth and ninth grades when children who attended private or home school before may transfer to public schools.

Bend-La Pine also contracts with Portland State University’s Population Research Center to help make its enrollment predictions. The university estimates the school district will reach 19,600 students by 2021, according to a news release from Bend-La Pine.

Enrollment has increased greatly in five years. The school district is up 1,775 students since 2012. The district has increased by an average of 350 students each year over the past 30 years.

Last school year, Bend-La Pine argued the quickly increasing enrollment necessitated the passage of a $268.3 million school bond. Voters passed the school bond in May by nearly 60 percent. The capital construction bond will build a new elementary school and high school, plus pay for about $106 million for maintenance projects and upgrades at nearly all of Bend-La Pine’s schools.

Recently, after considering where the district would place its two new strand high schools, Bend-La Pine Superintendent Shay Mikalson announced the small schools will be permanently housed in leased space. Part of the reason the district went with that option is it will provide the most added space for students.

Continued growth of the school district brings both “opportunities and some logistical challenges,” Mikalson said in the district’s release.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325,