Just two years after opening its newest school, the Bozeman School District has grown by 300 students, prompting officials to start investigating what it would take to build Bozeman's eighth elementary school.
The unofficial student headcount is 5,793, a new record for Bozeman.
Superintendent Kirk Miller told the Bozeman School Board on Monday night that's a high rate of growth, especially compared to other Montana communities.
When Miller arrived in Bozeman four years ago, there were just over 5,400 students, and today there are nearly 400 more.
Every elementary school classroom in Bozeman is full, Miller said. The only space available to add a class next year is one computer lab at the new Hyalite School. That means next year, Bozeman's schools will be crowded.
The fastest a new school could be built and opened would be 2014, Miller said. The board's long-range building committee will meet soon, he said, to start talking about the best locations for a new school, what it would take to buy land and a timeline.
Miller said he kept expecting the economic downtown to put a damper on Bozeman's enrollment growth, but that hasn't happened.
This fall, Bozeman's schools have about 131 more students than last year. The schools won't receive any additional state money to pay for their education until next year, Miller added. State dollars are based on the previous school year's official enrollment counts, which take place on Oct. 1 and Feb. 1.
Trustee Ed Churchill noted a recent news story about Bozeman-area private schools, which lost dozens of students this year, a trend principals and headmasters blamed largely on the recession making it harder for parents to afford tuition. Miller said it would be a reasonable assumption that the downturn has contributed to the public schools' growth, but his staff hasn't done any research to find out if that's what is happening.
The greatest enrollment jump this year is in kindergarten, which has 75 more 5-year-olds than last year.
At Bozeman High School, where student numbers had been slowly declining, there's an unofficial tally of 1,840 students, up 20 from last year.
In the seven elementary schools, 23 percent of students aren't attending their neighborhood schools. Miller said that's better than 28 percent last year and 50 percent the year before, the first year the elementary schools switched to using neighborhood attendance areas.
More kids are likely to be pushed out of their neighborhood schools next year as schools become more crowded, said Steve Johnson, assistant superintendent for business.