New and higher enrollment projections for the Big Walnut School District are striking, but do not come as a surprise, says Superintendent Angie Pollock.
During the July Big Walnut school board meeting, Pollock released preliminary figures from the district’s latest 10-year enrollment study. Those early numbers, Pollock said at that meeting, indicated a 51 percent increase in student population by 2025.
Pollock was the keynote speaker during the Aug. 21 Sunbury/Big Walnut Area Chamber of Commerce membership breakfast meeting. During that meeting, Pollock said final estimated residential numbers from the district’s political subdivisions were in and the enrollment numbers were higher than first anticipated.
The enrollment study, assembled by Tracey Healey of FutureThink, projects Big Walnut’s student population to most likely grow by 62 percent during the next decade, with a high-end estimate of 79 percent.
Healey had completed a 10-year enrollment study for the district in 2007 with low, medium, and high projections. Because the district already exceeds the high projection numbers in the 2007 study, Pollock and district administrators decided to launch a new study with student population growth projections through 2025.
During an interview last week, Pollock went over the old and new numbers, and the district’s plans to accommodate residential growth.
“In 2007, Tracey Healey projected Big Walnut’s high-end student population in 2017 would be 3,455 students,” Pollock said. “We have 3,485 students on the books today, but some of those kids will be pulled out by the October school-count month. That’s an administrative task that’s currently underway, but we know we’re well in excess of 3,400 students.”
Pollock said new enrollment study numbers did not come as a surprise.
“We’ve been watching this,” Pollock said. “We understand that our secret’s out: That we have great schools and taxes are lower than in similar districts. We’ve been meeting with developers over the years, and we know we have to have money to meet the growth coming our way.”
Pollock emphasized that the 6.9-mill, $4.9 million operating levy voters approved in May came with a five-year promise – the district would not ask for new operating money for the life of the levy. However, its facility needs must be met as new students enter the district.
“The enrollment study’s most likely 62 percent growth projection means we’ll be serving an additional 2,085 students by 2025,” Pollock said. “At the high end, 79 percent, we would have an additional 2,661 students. We’ve always watched this, we’ve known it’s coming, even with the recession slowing down development. But with the economy picking up, the housing market is continuing to grow.”
Pollock quoted specific numbers from the enrollment study to put anticipated residential growth in perspective.
Big Walnut Intermediate School, serving grades 5 and 6, has a capacity of 650 students without the administration central office in the building; by 2025, at the 62 percent growth number, the intermediate school would serve 856 students. Big Walnut Middle School, grades 7 and 8, has a 700-student capacity; there will be an estimated 809 middle school students by 2025. Big Walnut High School was built and then expanded to serve 1,100 students; there will be 1,673 high school students in 2025.
“We would need at least one more elementary building under the most likely scenario, because we’d be more than 500 students short of what we’re able to accommodate,” Pollock said. “Currently we can accommodate 4,027 students in all of our existing facilities. Under the most likely 62 percent growth number, in 10 years we’re at 5,460 students; so we know we’ll be 1,400 students shy of space in our existing buildings.”
Pollock said the anticipated growth in Big Walnut’s student population is not out there on the horizon — it’s already got its foot in the door. Last school year Big Walnut graduated 224 students; there are 227 in the Class of 2016, with 264 juniors behind them. Farther down the road, and a better indication of younger families moving into the district, is a fourth-grade class with 304 students – and that number will likely grow as more families move to Big Walnut.
“We’re always looking at staffing for at least a few years out,” Pollock said. “We already know we’ll need four teachers at the high school next year – one for each content area to handle the larger class sizes, and that’s not even counting for the growth that’s coming in.”
Pollock also said district staff increases would be needed in kindergarten through grade 2 to keep class sizes down where students are learning to read.
“Teaching students to read and giving them the personalized attention they need is hard to do with a large class size,” Pollock said. “When we do our budget, we’re estimating staff needs a little high. We would rather have the money in the budget and not need them if the need is not there.”
Pollock said the district has started an economic development committee composed of select district administrators, area stakeholders, including representatives of Big Walnut area political subdivisions, and the business community.
She said that committee is focusing on four areas of concern:
• Anticipated district enrollment and development in existing facilities to determine future needs for the next 10 years.
• Providing input to the district administration and recommendations for future bond issues to build new facilities and maintain current facilities.
• Working collaboratively with other entities in the community to share information regarding growth in the Big Walnut area.
• Establishing and recommending ways for developers to help offset the financial impact of new developments.
The committee met for the first time on Aug. 18.
“We’re looking at options that will best serve the needs of the entire Big Walnut community,” Pollock said. “We hope to meet monthly with focused agendas to talk about our resources for the next 10 years, and recommend bond issues for the next 10 years and get committee members’ input.
“The exciting thing about all this growth is the reinforcement for us that folks are discovering what we already know — that our community and schools are great and people want to be part of that,” Pollock said. “We just want to make sure we — as we grow — continue to provide the quality of education our community, our current students and new students all deserve.”
Pollock said the 2015 10-year enrollment study and its impact on the school district would be a major focus of the 2015 State of the Schools session, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, at Big Walnut Middle School.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093