Three hundred and sixty seniors graduated last month. More than 600 kindergartners start school in August.
The Elkhorn school district has grown a lot over the past 10 years, and now, with a number of new housing developments in the works, it's poised to accelerate — maybe explode. Among metro-area districts, only Bennington has grown at a faster clip than Elkhorn.
Elkhorn could grow so much, in fact, that officials are talking about the need to find land for a third high school, just three years after opening the district's second one.
Comparing kindergarten entries and graduation exits is one measure metropolitan area districts use to gauge growth. In some districts, such as Elkhorn, Gretna and Bennington, the rate of that growth is fast and furious. In others — Papillion-La Vista, Millard, Omaha and Bellevue — it's a bit more measured. In pure numbers, the larger districts are still adding more students each year, but Elkhorn isn't far behind.
School districts also track home construction and development trends. After a handful of years in which builders filled lots in existing housing developments, a number of new developments are on the board. While Bennington isn't opening up new ground, it still has roughly 1,500 undeveloped lots.
The uptick has Elkhorn officials, in particular, stepping up plans for the future. It also has some wondering whether it will be realistic to maintain the Class B-size high schools the district prefers into the future.
Recently, consultants presented a master facilities plan that lays out short- and long-term needs. It also forecasts the number of students — more than 18,000 — and the number of school buildings the district is likely to have if it fills out completely. It's currently less than 50 percent developed.
This fall, Elkhorn Superintendent Steve Baker will take those maps and charts to community groups and parent-teacher organizations and begin laying the groundwork for the school district's next bond issue.
It won't come next year. But it will come, and it most likely will include an already planned extra wing for Elkhorn South High School, an addition at Elkhorn Middle School, security upgrades at a number of buildings and land for a third high school.
“We're responding to growth,” Baker said. “That's our responsibility and our challenge.”
He said he's now convinced — he wasn't as recently as several months ago — of the need to lock in another high school site while acceptable tracts are readily available.
Enrollments at both Elkhorn South (933) and Elkhorn High (716) are well ahead of projections. Elkhorn South opened in 2010.
With consideration of a third high school will come discussions about the best size for such buildings, Baker said. Capacities at elementary and middle school buildings, about 450 and 600 students each, respectively, probably wouldn't change.
At the high school level, Elkhorn residents typically have preferred to top out at about 1,500 students, he said. The planned addition at Elkhorn South would bring that building to that capacity.
The long-range plan, however, indicates that the district someday could need a fourth high school if it sticks with the 1,500 enrollment target. But as costs continue to rise, a fourth high school could prove expensive to build and to operate, consultants said.
Cal Bull, a school board member and a lifelong Elkhorn resident, said he didn't think he'd hear talk of a third high school for a long time yet.
“It's a good thing the parents and community in general have always been overwhelmingly supportive of the schools, and they've had a great deal of trust in the people running the district, that we've done the footwork to check things out,” he said. “I feel good about where the district is and where the district is headed.”
Baker already has consulted with Millard school district officials about their experiences in trying to keep enrollments balanced. As it grew, he said, Millard offered specialty programs, such as Montessori and International Baccalaureate, at some schools to draw students and help balance lopsided enrollment.
Elkhorn, by contrast, has a tradition of uniformity in its programs.
“We have a strong belief (that) what we do, we do the same everywhere,” Baker said. “We want our students to have a solid education that's going to prepare them for a continuing education.”
All those topics most likely will come up in community meetings over the coming months. The district went through a similar process before it put the $96 million bond issue that built Elkhorn South on the ballot in 2006.
Said board member Ann Long, “It's time for our public to really understand what's going on.”
Residents can get pretty good clues by driving through the district. New houses are going up near both of the new elementary schools the district will open this fall: West Bay near 188th and Spring Streets and Sagewood off 180th and Fort Streets. The district's fourth middle school will open near Sagewood in 2014. All three were funded by the district's $49.1 million bond issue, passed in 2011.
Baker said Sagewood's opening will relieve crowding at Manchester Elementary, which last year sent two sections of kindergartners to Hillrise Elementary. Sagewood will eventually get students from a large development now being proposed in its attendance area.
“We couldn't be opening an elementary at a better time,” he said.
Metro area school district enrollment
Elkhorn Public Schools
Geographic size: 48 square miles.
K-12 enrollment: 6,276, up from about 3,100 students 10 years ago. Growing an average of 6.8 percent a year over the past five years.
Projected kindergarten enrollment this fall: about 600, up roughly 13 percent from the past two years. Would be a record.
Before 2000, Elkhorn was a district of five school buildings — three elementaries, one middle school and one high school.
When school starts this fall, it will have nine elementaries, three middle schools with another set to open in fall 2014 and two high schools.
Projected enrollment if the district is entirely developed: 18,129
Schools needed to serve 18,000 students, given current school size: 19 elementary, seven middle and four high schools.
The district counted 428 houses under construction in April, up from 281 at the same time last year.
Builders were filling in existing developments. Now a number of new developments are planned.
Approximately 1,200 lots are in some stage of the planning and development process.
Four of the five busiest developments in the metropolitan area, as ranked by MarketGraphics of Nebraska, lie within the district's boundaries.
Other school districts
Pre-K-12 enrollment: 50,461, up more than 2,400 over the past five years, with average growth of 1.1 percent a year over that period. Opening a new elementary and new middle school this fall. A facilities study begun this spring could include a recommendation for a new northwest Omaha high school.
Pre-K-12 enrollment: 23,075, has been increasing an average of 375 students a year over the past decade, with average growth of 1.4 percent a year over the past five years. Forecasts call for an additional 955 students over the next five years. Bond issue approved in May will fund classroom additions at several elementary schools and two high schools. The district will soon discuss attendance boundary changes to address uneven growth.
Enrollment: 10,415, up 3.64 percent from previous year. Adding about 300 students a year, with average growth of 2.75 percent a year over the past five years. Builders were filling in existing developments, now new ones are planned. A bond issue approved in 2012 will fund a new elementary school and a new middle school.
Pre-K-12 enrollment: 9,726, with average growth of a little more than 1 percent a year over the past five years.
Pre-K-12 enrollment: 3,347, up from about 2,600 five years ago, with average growth of 6.5 percent a year over that period. Builders are filling in existing developments, and now new ones are planned. Graduated 189 seniors in the spring. By May, 335 kindergartners had signed up for fall. Opened a new elementary school and high school addition in 2012. Middle school now approaching capacity.
K-12 enrollment: 1,557, up from about 1,000 five years ago, with average growth of nearly 11 percent a year over that period. Enrolled 161 kindergartners last year and graduated 91 seniors. Already lists 170 kindergartners for fall. Opened a new elementary school and an addition to junior-senior high school in 2012.