Demographic group predicts moderate growth for SD2

2012-11-05T20:01:00Z 2012-11-06T00:11:16Z Demographic group predicts moderate growth for SD2By ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Growth in School District 2 — which currently sits at about 16,000 students — will continue to climb each year until it peaks at about 17,600 students in the 2020-2021 school year, according to data presented to the board Monday night by Cropper GIS.

The study, performed by geographer Matther Cropper and demographer Jerry McKibben, found that growth in Billings among school-age children was happening the fastest in specific neighborhoods on the north end of the Heights, the South Side, downtown and the West End.

They also found that the city's fastest-growing population overall was its retirement community.

"You've got empty-nesters and young families moving in at the same time," McKibben told trustees. 

McKibben also told trustees that the majority of district's growth over the next decade won't come from people moving into the area.

"This is probably the most important thing I can tell you," he said. "Seventy to 80 percent of the forecast increase in student enrollment are students that already live in the district."

The methodology, depth of data and quality of results presented by Cropper came as welcome news to many trustees and community members. 

"They are sharp," said Andy Wildenberg, a parent in the district. 

Wildenberg is also an associate professor of computer science at Rocky Mountain College. He's been watching Cropper's progress closely for the better part of a year.

Wildenberg was on the committee that designed the bid process for finding the demographic company and detailing exactly what the district wanted in its study. Cropper was the obvious choice, he said.

Looking at the results six months later, Wildenberg was impressed. 

"They did a good job of coming up with fine-grain analysis," he said. 

It's been important for the board to get this study right. Nearly a year ago, Wildenberg was part of a group that questioned the methodology, and ultimately, the results of a demographic study performed two years ago by the district. 

That report was shown to have serious potential flaws. Then-Chairwoman Barbara Bryan attempted to edit and correct portions of it, inflaming the issue.

But after Monday night's presentation, trustees seemed to be confident in the quality of the data they received. 

"They're doing an excellent job," Trustee Kathy Aragon said. "They're exceeding, I think, my expectations."

Aragon is one of the biggest voices on the board calling for better planning data. 

Chairwoman Teresa Stroebe expressed her own optimism in what she saw.

"It's a start," she said. "It's really good to be doing this."

Stroebe, who represents the Lockwood area on the board, had questions about how closely the growth in SD2's feeder school districts was studied. But she's confident in Cropper's ability to gather that data and add it to the analysis. 

Cropper will come back to the board after the new year and present its analysis, including a look at how school boundaries within the district could be redrawn to be more efficient. 

But to use the data to make any kind of change within the district, the community will need to be involved and the data will have to be "bullet-proof," Stroebe said. 

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