Monday, April 12, 2004

School numbers grow quickly

Boone in race to have enough space for 15,600

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

FLORENCE - Boone County Schools will have about 550 more students next fall than this year - fewer than the previous two years, but the trend is still upward, officials say.

This year, 15,048 students are enrolled; officials expect 15,600 for 2004-05, an increase of about 3.6 percent.

"It doesn't mean that we won't end up with 1,000 more in 2005-2006. Even with the best projections, we don't know," said Superintendent Bryan Blavatt. "What it means is that the growth is not stopping."

Boone is the third-largest district in the state and has 18 schools. Enrollment has increased by about 1,500 students since 2001-02, and by more than 3,000 in the last seven years. Last year the district projected more than 18,000 students by the end of this decade.

"That's still a very viable number," said Gerald Turner, the district's director of pupil personnel.

U.S. Census estimates released last week show Boone County with a 13 percent population growth from April 2000 to July 2003, making it the second-fastest-growing county in the Greater Cincinnati region.

And the number of new homes planned in Boone shows no sign of slowing anytime soon.

According to the Boone County Planning Commission, 107 subdivisions have had substantial building activity since 2000 or are scheduled for heavy activity in the near future.

The total number of single- and multi-family homes planned for those subdivisions is 23,230. However, only 12,582, or 54 percent, have been built so far.

"The Burlington, Union and Northbend Road (Ky. 237) areas are really the three growth spots now," said Bob Jonas of the planning commission. "And there's not going to be a slowdown."

Erpenbeck Elementary School off U.S. 42 in Florence is in one of those spots and has been dealing with growing pains since it opened in 1998.

The school is surrounded by new subdivisions in Union and Florence, including Plantation Pointe, where 838 single- and multi-family homes have been built. More than 40 percent of those have been built in the last four years, and 527 more are planned.

Erpenbeck, meanwhile, went from 650 students in 1998 to more than 900 last year. That forced the district to move more than 100 children to Yealey and Ockerman elementary schools before the start of this school year. But new enrollments throughout this year have pushed the school's population back above 900. Projections for 2004-05 show enrollment hitting its highest level ever at 972.

Marc Wilson of Florence has three daughters who attend Erpenbeck Elementary School. Classes there are filled beyond capacity, he said.

"Twenty-eight kids for one teacher is a little much," he said. "You can tell from the homework they bring home that it's overwhelming for the teacher. They can't cover everything in class, so the kids have to bring the work home."

The answer, said Wilson, is to change the way schools are funded.

"The county government needs to build into their budget to allow for future school growth," he said. "And there needs to be more accountability by administrators for the way taxpayers' money is spent."

Near North Pointe Elementary School on Ky. 237 in Hebron, 1,464 single-family homes are scheduled to be built in the North Pointe subdivision. So far, only 34 are complete. The school opened in 2000 with 488 students. Today, there are 640 in a building with a capacity of about 700. The district projects 653 there next year.

While there will be no redistricting before school starts Aug. 16, Blavatt said it will be needed at some schools before the start of the 2005-06 year. That's when a new middle school will open on Camp Ernst Road in Burlington.


Maggie Downs contributed.



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