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District 196 study says enrollment will remain steady

Enrollment in District 196 schools is likely to remain steady over the next 10 years according to a demographic study conducted recently by former Minnesota State Demographer Hazel Reinhardt.

Reinhardt, who the district hired in February to conduct the study, told school board members Monday that enrollment will most likely decline in the next few years but climb again starting around 2019. Her projections for the district's enrollment 10 years from now range from 25,804 using her most conservative estimates to 26,185. The district's current enrollment is 25,928.

Reinhardt expects growth to continue beyond 2025 as members of Generation Y start to raise families.

The district paid a little more than $30,000 for the study, which finance director Jeff Solomon said gives the district much better long-range projections than it is able to produce on its own. The district maintains its own projections, but Solomon said those aren't always reliable beyond about five years.

The district last conducted a demographic study in 2004.

District 196 will use Reinhardt's numbers as it considers the way it uses space. A task force is currently looking at the need for new early-childhood and elementary programs, and knowing how the district's population will change -- which areas will gain population and which will lose -- will help determine what programs are needed and where they should be located.

The district has talked about adding all-day kindergarten, among other programs.

"This is our raw data," superintendent Jane Berenz said Monday. "Hazel gave us all the information to think about."

Reinhardt's study went beyond just numbers. She also looked at factors such as racial and economic makeup, and the overall age of the district. What she found is a district that is still younger than much of Dakota County, but that is aging. Reinhardt said she expects a "significant shift" in the next five or 10 years.

"The biggest one is the aging of the population," she said. "It's a phenomenal shift ... from a basically young population to a middle-age population."

Reinhardt also gave the district some good news about its ability to hold on to students. The district's capture rate -- the percentage of students who live in the district and attend District 196 schools -- is 88.1 percent. Reinhardt said that number is remarkably high for a metropolitan district.

"This is the kind of capture rate we find in small-town schools," Reinhardt said. "It's unheard of in the Twin Cities."