TWIN FALLS — It’s tough to predict how many students the Twin Falls School District will have next school year, but officials expect modest growth.
Each spring, school administrators compile enrollment projections for the upcoming school year. It helps with budgeting and planning for staffing, including whether to hire more teachers.
The Twin Falls School District is conservatively predicting 9,734 students for the 2019-20 school year — less than a 1.5% increase, or the equivalent of 140 more students. Over the last decade or so, the annual growth rate has ranged from 1.7 to 5%.
To compile enrollment projections for next school year, district officials essentially rolled over existing students to the next grade level and are guessing how many kindergartners will show up. Since graduating high school classes are smaller than the number of incoming kindergartners, that equates to an overall enrollment increase.
Projections don’t account for any additional growth, though, such as students who may move into the area and will be new to the school district.
“We’re being a bit conservative this year,” Superintendent Brady Dickinson said Monday. “We’re not feeling real confident that we have a huge number of people moving into Twin right now.”
This school year, student numbers were growing initially, but now, enrollment is similar to where it was a year ago, Dickinson said.
He said he’d rather have schools be a little understaffed than overstaffed. If more enrollment growth happens than projected, the school district will seek to hire more teachers in the fall. It can be challenging, though, to find candidates once the school year has already started.
To put together enrollment projections, Twin Falls School District officials look at enrollment trends, talk with city administrators about how many new building permits have been issued, and talk with realtors to get a sense of whether they’re seeing an influx of people moving in from out-of-town or just within Twin Falls.
In recent years, enrollment has surged in the Twin Falls School District, thanks to new companies coming to town and population growth. Voters approved a nearly $74 million bond in 2014 to build three new schools: Rock Creek and Pillar Falls elementary schools, which opened in 2016, and South Hills Middle School, which opened in 2017.
Dickinson said he’s not sure if the enrollment growth trend is starting to slow down. And if students are just moving within the school district, it could mean fluctuations in enrollment at specific schools.
“We want to ensure we’re not overcrowded at any one school,” he said.
Dickinson said he’s feeling good about class size projections for next school year. Keeping class sizes at a reasonable level is something that’s important to parents, he said.
Across the Twin Falls School District, the biggest enrollment increases for the next school year are expected at Twin Falls High School, with 95 more students, and Canyon Ridge High School, with 77 more students. That’s due to a big group of incoming ninth-graders.
Each of the three middle schools — Robert Stuart, Vera C. O’Leary and South Hills — will likely see between 13 and 32 more students next year. They’re expecting a larger-than-usual group of incoming sixth-graders.
Four of Twin Falls’ elementary schools — Harrison, Lincoln, Morningside and Oregon Trail — will see fairly flat enrollment next school year, fluctuating from two to seven additional or fewer students.
I.B. Perrine Elementary School is expected to gain about 17 students.
The biggest drops: 26 fewer students at Sawtooth Elementary School, 23 fewer at Pillar Falls Elementary School, 13 fewer at Rock Creek Elementary School and 12 fewer at Bickel Elementary School.
But that doesn’t factor in any new students moving in, so numbers can be a little deceiving. Since Pillar Falls and Rock Creek elementary schools are in quickly growing areas of Twin Falls, they’re “continuing to show additional growth because of the number of new homes in that area,” Dickinson said.
Schools surrounded by older neighborhoods, such as Morningside Elementary School, are seeing a slight enrollment decrease, he said.
Dickinson’s biggest worry for school enrollment next year is Rock Creek Elementary in quickly-growing northwest Twin Falls. School officials are expecting 667 students — and that’s assuming there aren’t any new students. That’s already higher than the 3-year-old school’s comfortable capacity of 650 students.
Behind that on the list of concerns is Pillar Falls Elementary, with an estimated 578 students next year.
With both new schools, the buildings would start to get feel uncomfortable once enrollment hits around 750 students, Dickinson said.
In south Twin Falls, Oregon Trail is also a concern, with an estimated 619 students next school year.
“Those are the three that are closest to capacity right now,” Dickinson said.
But across the Twin Falls School District, there’s space at the elementary level for more students. Some schools just have more room than others.
School district officials will monitor the situation. The solution isn’t necessarily building new schools at this point, Dickinson said, but they’ll instead look for strategies for mitigating overcrowding without being too disruptive.
Within Rock Creek Elementary’s attendance zone, there’s still a lot of new home construction, Principal Shari Cowger said Tuesday, adding it seems every time she looks out her office window, there’s a new house going up. “We’re seeing pockets of growth, for sure.”
There are only one or two open rooms at Rock Creek Elementary currently, so the building is already fairly full.
When the school opened in 2016, Cowger expected it would take about five years to reach the current level of enrollment.
“That was being extremely conservative in my thought process,” she said. Instead, it happened in only three years.
Based on enrollment projections, Rock Creek Elementary will receive an additional first-grade teacher for next school year. The school also plans to move a second-grade teacher within the school to third-grade because “we knew those numbers are really high,” Cowger said.
She expects the upper grade levels — fourth and fifth — will be large groups of students. But “all grade levels are still going to be near full,” she said. “I think it’s just the nature of this area right now and the growth.”