At the rate enrollment is growing in the Bozeman School District, administrators predict it may need to build a new elementary school, a new middle school and a new high school over the next decade.
Enrollment hit an all-time high of 5,679 students in October 2010, the Bozeman School Board learned Monday night.
That was an increase of 170 students over 2009.
That's good news for the school district's budget, which depends in large part on the student head count, said Steve Johnson, assistant superintendent for business.
The biggest growth spurt is occurring in the seven elementary schools. Enrollment jumped by 125 students in pre-kindergarten through grade five this fall, after increasing by 76 kids last year.
The new elementary total was 2,646 students, making this the fourth year in a row a record has been set.
In the two middle schools, enrollment increased by 48 students this fall to a record high of 1,215.
Only Bozeman High School bucked the trend. Enrollment there slipped this fall by three students to 1,818, which includes students in the Bridger Alternative Program. This was the fifth year in a row the high school has lost enrollment. It peaked in 2005 at 1,992 students.
"We're projecting that trend will reverse itself next year, based on students in the system," Johnson said.
The hardest prediction to make is kindergarten enrollment. This year's projection was too high by 35 students. Johnson said he bases predictions on how many children were born at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital five years before in Bozeman and neighboring areas of Gallatin County.
Those students may have shown up instead in the neighboring Monforton and Anderson school districts, which saw their kindergarten classes grow by 15 children each, he said.
Using the hospital birth figures, it appears Bozeman's kindergarten enrollment will set new records next year and the year after as well.
In a few weeks, the School Board's long-range planning committee will meet to discuss when new schools may be needed.
The newest and largest elementary school, Hyalite, opened last year. It took two years from start to finish to plan it, to win voter approval in a bond election and to construct the school. Johnson said that was probably too fast, and three to four years would be a better timetable.
But depending on how projections are calculated, Bozeman's elementary schools may be full by 2013, Johnson said. The middle schools are predicted to be full by 2014 or 2015. And Bozeman High could reach its maximum capacity of 2,400 by 2019 or 2020.
"A lot of things can happen -- extreme growth, or a downturn," Johnson said.
School Board Trustee Heide Arneson said the numbers may drop if the economy experiences a downturn. Johnson replied that he has heard speculation that Bozeman may be getting a lot of students from "storm chaser" families, that moved here temporarily to work repairing this summer's hail damage.
"It might still happen," he said of an enrollment downturn, "but it hasn't happened yet."
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.