Enrollment inches up and so does state funding for SD2

2013-10-23T00:00:00Z 2014-09-15T22:16:04Z Enrollment inches up and so does state funding for SD2By ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The elementary portion of School District 2 grew by 126 students this fall, but enrollment in the high schools fell, bringing SD2's net enrollment growth to 58 students. 

The numbers were made official on Monday.

It's a mixed bag for the district that shows continued, sustained growth at the elementary level but not the robust growth predicted by demographers. 

It also means less money from the state. 

This summer, the district submitted to the state its prediction of how many new students would come in this fall, about 320 students. With the projected increase, SD2 budgeted to receive $1.5 million from the state. 

Roughly a third of those projected students materialized and so SD2 will receive about $500,000 of the $1.5 million. SD2 and the state's Office of Public Instruction are currently working out what will be the exact amount. 

Leo Hudez, chief financial officer for SD2, explained that even though enrollment numbers came in below expectations, it's better to overestimate the projections it sends to the state. 

"Under the new law, if you shoot low and new kids come in, you don't get the money for them," Hudetz said. 

The new law is SB175, which allows school districts for the first time to receive funding for new students when they first arrive to the classroom. 

In the past, the district had to wait until the next school year to receive those funds. 

"So we're getting money this year we haven't gotten in other years," Bouck said. 

That means even if its less than expected, it's still money the district wouldn't have had in years past. 

The district has yet to receive the money. Over the summer it budgeted the $1.5 million to be used for maintenance, contingency plans and textbooks. 

The $500,000 will cover textbooks and not much more. 

Cropper GIS, the company that performed SD2's demographic study last summer, predicted the district would close out the 2013/2014 school year with an official enrollment count of 16,482.

The official count for this fall is 16,281 students. By the end of the school year, OPI will calculate the district's official enrollment, a process that takes district counts from October, December and February and puts them through a formula to get the number it will use to fully fund the school district.

Bouck isn't troubled by the numbers. Data from across the city, from housing starts to filings for home building permits, have risen steeply over the last three years. 

"That's very telling," Bouck said. "There's going to be growth."

The district's enrollment numbers have been closely watched this fall. Last year SD2 undertook a massive demographics study that included enrollment projections for the next decade.

Those numbers, which showed SD2 growing by 1,600 students in 10 years, are the basis of its new master facilities plan and that plan's call for building new schools.

SD2 is currently seeking a $122 million bond from voters that will be used to build two new middle schools and renovate or repair nearly all of its elementary schools.

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