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Teetering enrollments are a shifting challenge for school districts across Utah

Architects designed New Bridge Elementary in the Ogden School District to be “flexible,” allowing different kinds of classroom configurations and accommodating the area’s changing student population.
Courtesy of Odgen School District
Architects designed New Bridge Elementary in the Ogden School District to be “flexible,” allowing different kinds of classroom configurations and accommodating the area’s changing student population.

Shifting demographics are forcing school districts in Utah to confront some very different challenges. Some areas are rapidly growing and schools are looking at expanding. Others are shrinking and may have to consider cutting jobs.

Schools in Utah and Washington counties are seeing some of the highest growth, along with the Jordan School District at the south end of the Salt Lake Valley.

Officials there say they’re going to have an “enrollment problem” very soon, as 10 schools are projected to see a significant influx of new students. One in particular, Ridge View Elementary School in Herriman, is expected to have more students than it can accommodate by the fall of 2023, even with 11 portable buildings.

At a board presentation in mid-March, Herriman representative Matt Young said the area has the highest birth rate in the district and is growing at a rate of 7% year over year.

He proposed the district construct a new “flexible” building next to the nearby high school to house just fourth through sixth grades, allowing the existing elementary school to serve kindergarten through third grade. As demographic trends continue to evolve, the building could later be transformed into a high school or another kind of school building, he said.

“I would be enthusiastic about trying this,” said Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. ”Because of the difference in ages and having that tighter group of students, you could have an administrator at each school that could do some really exciting things that maybe aren't possible when you're trying to meet the needs of a wider range of ages.”

Director of Student Services Travis Hamblin said there are many factors administrators have to consider in planning for future growth or enrollment declines, such as how many housing units are permitted for construction and what kinds of units. He said when areas build more apartment units rather than single-family homes, for example, that can affect school enrollment projections.

The Ogden School District is expecting an overall decrease of 1,200 students over the next five years, according to its recent demographic study. That’s due primarily to declining birth rates in Weber County, but officials also anticipate lower “yields” from apartment construction compared to single-family homes.

“Currently there is more higher-density housing planned for Ogden City than single-family homes, that’s just the state of our reality right now,” said Jer Bates, the district’s communications director. “Higher-density housing tends to attract single adults or adults without children more often.”

The district is currently evaluating how to adjust its boundaries to account for the changing demographics and may have to consolidate schools. Bates said that’s been an ongoing process as enrollments have been on a downward trend for years.

He said what typically happens is kids move from smaller, older schools into newer, larger ones. The newer buildings are designed with things like sliding doors between classrooms that can accommodate different kinds of lesson plans and shifting demographics.

While fewer students will require less staff, Bates said the district likely won’t have to lay anyone off. They can simply eliminate positions after someone retires or leaves.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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