Bozeman’s public schools have enrolled 7,111 students this fall, setting a new record for the 16th year in a row.

The fall 2019 enrollment report, being presented Monday night to the Bozeman School Board, shows a gain of 116 students over last year, a 1.6% increase.

“We’re growing,” said Steve Johnson, deputy superintendent. It does create challenges, but he said, “I’d rather be in a growing community than closing schools.”

Bozeman High School set a new record with 2,260 students, an all-time high with 36 more students than last year.

The freshman class exceeded 600 students for the first time in 2018 and this fall’s freshmen totaled 601.

And this year’s eighth-grade class, which will arrive in high school next fall, is “surging,” especially at Monforton School, the report said. Next year’s freshman class is projected to exceed 700 students.

Bozeman’s public schools have grown in the past decade by 1,600 students or 29% from 5,509 students in 2009.

To keep up with such growth, voters approved a record $125 million bond issue in 2017 to build Bozeman’s second high school and renovate the original Bozeman High School. New Gallatin High is under construction in northwest Bozeman and set to open in 10 months.

The total high school population isn’t expected to reach 2,400 students until 2021, one year later than earlier estimated.

In Bozeman’s eight elementary schools, enrollment is 3,225 students, which slipped by 10 students from last year, the first decrease since 2002.

However, kindergarten enrollment jumped by 43 students, mainly because of a three-year surge in births at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital that began five years ago.

School administrators have been trying to decide whether to ask voters next May for millions of dollars to build elementary school No. 9 for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

These latest enrollment numbers don’t really help make that decision one way or the other, Johnson said. “We’re still kind of in a limbo state.”

Elementary schools still have a couple of empty classrooms, but principals would say their schools are full, he said. “The worst case is you build too fast, and then there’s an economic downturn and you’ve overbuilt.”

The district continues to offer two pre-kindergarten Running Start classes for 4-year-olds, and has increased class sizes from 18 to 20 children.

This year the two elementary schools with the largest enrollment are Meadowlark with 537 students and Emily Dickinson with 519. Next largest are Morning Star with 487 children and Hyalite with 476. The older, smaller schools are Hawthorne with 363 kids, Longfellow with 309, Whittier with 280 and Irving with 254.

Middle-school enrollment, grades six through eight, increased by 90 students, the largest increase for any level.

Sacajawea Middle School recently underwent a $16 million renovation and expansion, which led to a boundary change to bring in more students. Today Sacajawea has 863 students or 100 more than Chief Joseph Middle School. Total middle school enrollment for the two schools is 1,626, an all-time record.

Administrators, who are keeping an eye on when a third middle school will be needed, wrote that they expect only modest growth in middle school classes in the next few years.

Despite Bozeman schools’ overall record enrollment, this fall’s numbers fell 40 students short of budget experts’ expectations. That means under state law the district will have to spend less on the general fund this year and state revenue will be reduced to match the actual enrollment count. Next year’s school property taxes will have to be reduced.

Still, enrollment estimates came within half a percent of projections, which administrators called very reasonable.

They’re projecting that next year’s enrollment will again set a record, estimating 7,295 students.

The School Board meets at 5:45 p.m. Monday in the boardroom of Willson School, 404 W. Main St. The complete agenda can be found online at bsd7.org.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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