With population in the Brainerd lakes area projected to jump in the next 30 years, school districts are looking at how they can accommodate the growth.
The Brainerd School District addressed its growth in a five-year comprehensive plan and is building a middle school in Baxter that will open in fall of 2004. The new school will be a fifth- through eighth-grade facility.
Brainerd Superintendent Jerry Walseth said it is important to track the demographics. He said the district needs to review the projections made by the Minnesota Planning's State Demographic Center to help the district calculate its plan for the future.
Minnesota Planning released a projected population report this year. In the report, Crow Wing County is projected to be the eighth-fastest growing county in the state.
Crow Wing County is expected to see a 64 percent population increase from 2000 to 2030. The population in ages 0 to 14 is projected to grow between 8-22 percent from 2000 to 2010.
Walseth estimated enrollment of nearly 8,000 students by 2010 based on the projected population and enrollment patterns. The district enrollment this year is 7,365.
Using what he called a conservative approach, Walseth said the school district estimates a .5 to 1 percent increase per year in enrollment.
Walseth said the largest percentage of growth in the school district is the sixth- through 12th-graders, primarily because of private and parochial elementary school students re-entering the public school system.
In the county, 67 percent of the students attend Brainerd schools and the remainder attend Pequot Lakes, Crosby or non-public schools, said Walseth. He said this has been the trend in the past.
"We need to understand where the population centers will go," said Walseth. "Nisswa, Brainerd and Merrifield are all strong possibilities."
Walseth said the school district is looking at the location of housing developments. It also is monitoring what the cities and the county are doing in terms of long-range planning.
One of the challenges associated with the growth is the increased needs of students, including bilingual students.
"We'll have to make determinations on specialized areas of teaching," said Walseth. "English as a second language is a possibility."
Walseth said if the number of families diminish it will be more important for the school district to make connections with people who do not have children in school.
"We need places for senior citizens and others to be involved with the school and to take advantage of community education classes," he said.
Walseth said a big challenge the district could face with senior citizen population growth is if and when it would ask taxpayers to support referenda. He said communication would be the key in that type of situation.
Linda Lawrie, Crosby-Ironton School District superintendent, said she believes enrollment will remain steady in Crosby.
"We'll remain stable for five years," she said. "In the later part of the 10 years we'll grow a little.
"There will be more growth in Brainerd and Pequot Lakes and on that side of the county. If there is growth in the school district it will be a combination of students and senior citizens."
Lawrie said the school district is not projecting enough growth within the next 10 years to warrant building another school.
"I believe that the district will be able to handle our growth with the current two-campus system we have," she said.
The school district is asking its taxpayers to approve a $20.525 million building bond Tuesday to fund building improvements and an addition.
"What we're doing is making sure 10 years down the line that we'll have enough room," said Lawrie. "But we're not projecting a large amount of students."
Lawrie said if the bond passes the facility will be able to handle another 100 students.
The Pequot Lakes School District, also in Crow Wing County, is projecting 2 percent enrollment increase per school year. Pequot Lakes Superintendent Jim Oraskovich said that has been the trend in the district. There were 873 students in 1980; 900 in 1990; 1,310 in 2000; and currently there are 1,365 students.
Oraskovich said Crosslake and Breezy Point have seen the greatest population growth in this region. He said this increase, however, has not affected the district because the growth has been associated with senior citizens or residents without school-age children.
The Pequot School District's population consists of 40 percent of people age 65 or older, 40 percent are people with no school-age children and 20 percent have children in the school system.
Oraskovich said because the large numbers of senior citizens, he expects younger families to move into the school district to fill jobs that will serve the elderly.
"We have to really make the best effort we can to offer opportunities to the senior citizens and to all citizens," said Oraskovich. "They all need to be connected to the school."
The school district has addressed its current growth by building a new elementary school in Breezy Point. Oraskovich said the school district, when the Breezy Point school is open, we'll be able to accommodate 1,600 students. The district predicts the school will reach its capacity in 2010.
Oraskovich said more affordable housing is an issue to address relative to the growth projections.
Plans call for construction of a four-lane highway between Nisswa and Pine River through Pequot Lakes.
"If this happens, it certainly will have a bearing on the rate of growth we will see and an impact on market value," said Oraskovich.
Neighboring school districts also will see an increase in population -- but not necessarily in student population.
Aitkin County is projected to grow by 65 percent by 2030.
Aitkin School District Superintendent Ed Anderson said he believes the growth will occur because of more people choosing to retire in the community.
"Our enrollment is declining and I expect it to continue for seven years," he said. "Then we'll see stability or growth.
"The demographers can't depict where the population will be, which is very important. If it (the population increase) is in the northeast of Aitkin County then we will not benefit, but if it is evened out it will be great."
Anderson said he is not too concerned about a large senior citizen population in the school district when it comes to passing referenda.
"The last time we passed one it was 2 to 1 and we received tremendous support for schools from seniors," said Anderson. "The seniors recognized the need."
Anderson said no matter how things turn out in the next 30 years, the school district will take "whatever comes down the pike."
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