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Enrollment may be on its way back up

Enrollment in Independent School District 196 schools may be on the way up again. After seven years of declines, the district's official enrollment for the 2010-11 school year is up by four students over last year. That's hardly enough for a good study group, but for district administrators it's better than what they've been seeing.

"The last six years we've been going down about 200 students a year, so we're excited," said Kim Reis, the district's student information supervisor.

Total enrollment for the district this year is 27,451.

District enrollment is also increasingly diverse, with students of color representing 24.8 percent of enrollment, up 1.6 percent from last year.

The district predicted a decrease of about 40 students for this year. State funding for school districts is determined in large part by student enrollment, so a higher enrollment means more money for the district.

The biggest increase in District 196 schools came at the high school level, where enrollment is up by 78 students. The district has 55 more elementary students than last year and 93 fewer middle school students.

Reis said the biggest factor in the district's enrollment growth appears to be an increase in the open enrollment of students who live outside of the district. Reis doesn't have official numbers yet to support that, but she said she has seen a large number of open enrollment requests come across her desk.

The district has also started to see larger kindergarten classes. Those classes could continue to grow. Reis said births in the area slowed for a few years following Sept. 11, 2001 but they appear to be picking up again.

The district had early indications enrollment would be higher than expected this year. As of Sept. 20, the district had 27,570 students enrolled. But Reis said enrollment numbers can change quickly early in the year because students sometimes transfer out of the district over the summer without telling anybody. The numbers as of Oct. 1 are what school districts report to the state of Minnesota.

"We're happy to see that it's turned around. We're expecting a turnaround in the next few years," Reis said. "We're hoping that this is the beginning of a new trend."