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Published September 08 2010

First-day enrollment numbers mixed in Minnesota

The first day of school in Minnesota brought a mixed bag of enrollment news across the region.

Most area public schools enjoyed upticks in their student ranks, most substantial among districts that have steadily added students in recent years. For a couple of districts, the growth might spell a looming space crunch.

After four years of modest enrollment gains, Moorhead saw a decrease of 73 students, for a total of 5,379 students. Superintendent Lynne Kovash said the drop – partly due to one of the district’s largest-ever graduating classes – was little cause for concern.

“I was in all of the schools today, and the kids were just excited to be there,” Kovash said.

Minnesota school leaders watch enrollment closely because it determines per-student state aid, the bulk of funding in the state.

Enrollments often fluctuate in the months after the school-year kickoff. By spring last year, Hawley added 20 students to its opening enrollment, and Moorhead shed 144.

The departure of the sizable senior class in Moorhead coincides with a decrease in enrollment at the kindergarten level. Kovash said officials will study the reasons behind the drop: Are neighboring districts with free all-day kindergarten such as Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton and Barnesville luring away students? Or is it a question of demographics?

“It’s not a major concern,” Kovash said, “but it’s something we want to check out.”

Moorhead officials project overall enrollment will start increasing again next year. An unusually large sixth grade took the district by surprise, with almost 30 students more than expected. Moorhead will spend part of roughly $1 million it expects to get from a federal teacher jobs bill on a sixth-grade educator.

“We need to do something,” Kovash said. “We can’t have 40 students in a class in the sixth grade.”

D-G-F added almost 40 students, for a total of 1,413. At that rate, Superintendent Randy Bruer said, the district will run out of space by next school year.

A community task force is meeting to devise the best solution: purchasing portable classrooms, leasing a separate facility for the district’s early childhood programs or planning for a third school.

Detroit Lakes, up 16 students from last year, welcomed an extra 46 students in the elementary grades. The 2,753-pupil district converted a computer lab at Rossman Elementary and a storage space at Roosevelt Elementary into classrooms. This month, its school board will weigh proposals from three facilities consultants.

“We’ve found classrooms in our existing buildings,” Superintendent Doug Froke said, “but space is becoming an issue.”

Another district that watched its enrollment numbers extra closely is Pelican Rapids, which switched to a four-day school week this year. The district lost 15 students, a slighter decrease than it has seen in recent years. The shift to a four-day week didn’t appear to have an effect, Superintendent Deb Wanek said.

“This morning, the principal started by stating we had changed to a four-day school week,” Wanek said. “We had some cheers and applause, so I would say the students are feeling good about it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529