More students are attending Billings schools this fall than last year, according to enrollment figures released by Billings School District 2.
SD2 had 16,101 students enrolled in October, up from 15,623 at this time last year, for a total bump of 478 students. A majority of those students are in the district’s elementary schools.
It’s the first time in nearly two decades that enrollment has jumped above 16,000 students.
“We’re up in K-6 like we projected,” said Gail Surwill, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
In fact, she said, projections produced last spring by SD2 executive directors Kathy Olson and Scott Anderson “were almost dead on,” she said.
The projected increase pushed the district to hire 11 more teachers at the elementary school level this year.
Arrowhead is the largest elementary school in the district with a student body of 538. Rose Park follows with an enrollment of 498. The district lists Meadowlark's enrollment at 604, but that includes 106 special education preschoolers who use services at the school, Olson said.
The jump in enrollment also has increased class size at the elementary school level. SD2 has 94 classrooms in its elementary schools that are above the state mandated student-to-teacher ratio.
The vast majority — 83 of the classes — are kindergarten through second grade where the ratio is required to be 20 students to a teacher.
Districts are required by the state each October and February to perform enrollment counts. The state then uses the information to calculate the amount of funding the district will receive.
Last year’s October enrollment of 15,623 had settled at 15,583 by the end of the school year.
This year’s growth brings more state funding to the district. But more students also means more expenses, Surwill said.
“There’s going to be challenge,” she said.
It’s an interesting development for the district. Public school enrollment in Billings has been relatively flat since the Nixon administration.
In 1970, SD2 had 17,960 students, and from there, enrollment has slowly and erratically declined until it bottomed out at 15,445 students in 2004.
Through much of the 1990s and all of the past decade, enrollment in the district never rose above 16,000.
Surwill expects October’s numbers to drop some by the end of the school year.
“I would say when we get February’s enrollment, we won’t see that same increase,” she said.
But she expects enrollment will continue to climb incrementally over the next few years. The demographic study commissioned by the board last year by Davis Demographics showed a similar trend.
It predicted enrollment in the district would hit 16,400 students by 2020.