Enrollment in Bozeman's public schools has grown to 6,214 this year, surpassing last year's record by 221 students.
Superintendent Rob Watson told the Bozeman School Board on Monday night that total enrollment is up from last year by 3.7 percent.
And the growth rate is accelerating. This year's rate is rising faster than last year's 3.1 percent increase and 2.3 percent the year before.
Bozeman's schools have been among the fastest growing in the state. In 2009 the district opened a seventh elementary school, Hyalite, and this fall it opened No. 8, Meadowlark, which already has 234 students.
“It's good the community allowed us to accommodate that growth by building Meadowlark,” Watson said. Steve Johnson, deputy superintendent, projected growth would continue, Watson said, “and the projections came through.”
In Bozeman's eight elementary schools, the district has 2,937 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. That's up 104 children from last year or 3.7 percent.
In the two middle schools, the headcount totals 1,314 sixth- to eighth-graders, an increase of 63 students or 5 percent.
At Bozeman High School, the number of students in ninth to 12th grades reached 1,963, an increase of 54 students or 2.8 percent.
“You can tell there's more people, walking through the halls,” said Brad Gossett, high school student president.
“It's harder to get into classes,” said Finn Johnston, junior class president.
Trustee Gary Lusin said at Hawk football games, people have asked when Bozeman will build a second high school. Many people assume Bozeman High is the largest high school in the state, he said.
Steve Johnson, deputy superintendent, said this fall's enrollment numbers haven't yet been turned in to the state Office of Public Instruction around the state, so it's too soon to make comparisons. But last year, Bozeman High was second largest in the state, he said, after Billings West.
The Bozeman School District's long-range plan calls for keeping one high school until enrollment reaches 2,400, which is expected to happen around 2020. Then the School Board would ask voters to approve bonds to construct a second high school.
The district legally couldn't build a second high school now even it if the community wanted to, because of state limits on how much debt the district can take on. School officials helped persuade the 2013 Legislature to pass a bill changing the formula to allow Bozeman to sell bonds sooner, but the governor vetoed it. Local voters several years ago approved buying 50 acres at Cottonwood and Stucky roads for $3 million for a future high school.
Johnson said the middle schools are expected to run out of room first — in the next three years.
The total enrollment of 6,214 includes 30 special education preschool children, who are getting early help to prepare them for elementary school, even though the state doesn't reimburse the school district for their education.
Growth is likely to continue. This year's kindergarten class of 528 sets a new record and is up 70 students from last year.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.