Enrollment this year in the Blaine County School District is close to what it was last year, but is almost 300 students short of a long-range district projection that was used two years ago in planning for a new elementary school.
As the first week of school drew to a close Friday, the district had enrollment of 3,402 students, only two more than the enrollment last year for the same period. In its long-range projections, the district expected to have 3,700 students enrolled for the 2011-12 school year.
In the last five years, the district has overall seen an increase in enrollment, but not at the numbers earlier projected. District enrollment after the first week of school in 2009 was 3,304 students. In 2008, first-week enrollment was 3,384, and in 2007 it was 3,326.
The district several years ago projected annual growth of 2 to 3 percent, and used those projections in planning for a new elementary school, but those projections were made before the recession began three years ago.
The district already has approved funding to build a new school, but district officials and school board members have repeatedly promised patrons that a new school wouldn't be built unless it's needed.
Funding for a new school was authorized at nearly $14 million in a 10-year $59.8 million plant facilities levy approved by Blaine County voters in 2009.
The lack of a significant increase in student numbers is also contrary to district expectations as recently as three months ago, when at a budget workshop in June, district officials cited increasing student numbers and the need for a new elementary school as early as the 2013-14 school year.
Assistant Superintendent John Blackman said Tuesday that he's not sure why student numbers didn't continue to increase this year as they did last year, other than to blame it on the state of the economy.
"I have no idea why the numbers would be flat, other than the recession and not as much construction going on, which is a large part of this economy," Blackman said. "It's been feast for quite a while, and now we're in a famine."
Blackman said the lack of increase in enrollment will likely put off planning for a new elementary school for at last a year.
"It's up to the board, but personally I couldn't see them moving forward with a new school if the need isn't there," he said. "They'll see that we're flat."
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org