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Enrollment on the rise in Willmar, Minn., School District

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WILLMAR -- Enrollment in Willmar Public Schools has continued to climb this fall, and that could bring more money to the school district.

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The district started the school year with 135 students more than it had in June.

As of Nov. 2, the district had added another 49 students, for a total of 4,184 students. It the highest enrollment at this point in the school year for at least five years, according to monthly finance reports posted on the district's website.

Business and Finance Director Pam Harrington told the Willmar School Board about the positive numbers at its Monday meeting.

The numbers are likely to fluctuate throughout the year, Harrington said, but the increase is still good news, as the state's funding formula bases aid payments on average daily enrollment.

The original budget for the 2012-13 school year estimated an average daily enrollment of 3,395 students. A revised average enrollment estimate of 4,123 students could translate into more than $700,000 in additional state funding, she said.

The district had planned to use up to $1.7 million from its undesignated fund balance to cover a projected deficit this year. The deficit would be smaller with good enrollment numbers.

Over the past decade, the district has started each school year with higher enrollment than it had in the spring, but the number of students has usually declined during the school year.

Last year, the district had about 140 fewer students, but enrollment was steadier, and there was only a slight decline at the end of the year. It's too soon to tell what the enrollment trend will be this year.

Harrington said part of the increase is due to a small graduating class leaving last spring and a large kindergarten class starting this fall. Some of the rest is due to new enrollments since the beginning of the year.

The possibility that enrollment is starting to grow again could be a factor in the board's efforts to develop a new strategic plan for the district, too.

An online survey is available for the public, and consultant Bruce Miles will meet with the School Board later this month and with district employees in December.

Miles also plans a public meeting to collect comments from the public. The meeting will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Rehearsal Hall at the Willmar Education and Arts Center.

Board members asked Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard what he thought would be in the strategic plan.

While the final plan will depend on the comments received, Kjergaard said, he thought there would probably be something about curriculum, teaching and facilities.

Regarding facilities, he said, "We've got some needs that we need to address."

With the first significant growth in enrollment in years, it may be necessary to look at adding portable classrooms or building a third elementary school, he said.

Board member Linda Mathiasen said Willmar has some of the largest elementary schools in the state, and the district should address that issue. Each building has more than 900 students in grades K-5, and Kjergaard said both are functioning well.

When the district reorganized its buildings a few years ago, he said, he would have preferred three buildings of 600 students, "but the buildings we have are the buildings we have." The elementary schools that were closed were "too old and too small" to use as a third school.

To participate in the school district's strategic plan survey, go to http://conta.cc/UpkHiw.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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