Dysart waits a year for growth wave

By Jennifer Jimenez
Special to Independent Newsmedia
The Dysart Unified School district saw virtually no change in enrollment according to the annual district demographic study presented to the governing board Feb. 8 by Rick Brammer of Applied Economics.
That will soon change. School-age population looks to increase by 8,500 between the current year and 2026-27, and it is projected 4,000 will feed directly into Dysart Unified schools.
Mr. Brammer said enrollment increased an average of 22 percent per year from 2000-01 to 2007-08 and 2 percent per year from 2007-08 to 2014-15 before taking more than a 5 percent dip last year.
“Total enrollment last year declined about 1,400 students, but that was almost the exact increase in charter school enrollment as well,” he said.
With the return of free kindergarten, the number of K-2 students did not decline as much. However, Mr. Brammer said the big decline last year is now in firstst grade and low birth rates are also continuing on the same trend.
“Birth rates in Maricopa County plummeted during the recession and since 2011 has shown no signs of an increase,” Brammer explained. “From 2006-2011, the birth rate has dropped 23.7 percent,” he said.
The majority of the student population is lumped together in a small part of the district, with the newest groups of students in the western and southwestern portions of the district. Higher concentrations of students are in the older and most recently developed parts, but that trend is changing.
“We see enrollment declines in the most established part of the district and that’s where many of the charter schools are located,” Mr. Brammer said.
Dysart Superintendent Dr. Gail Pletnick said Dysart is a total occupancy district and has limits as to where and when it can build schools.
Conversely, charter schools can pick any spot of available land and continue to increase its’ size amongst the one building area and can choose to open and close any level at anytime.
“I often hear from people, well, there’s land available in this particular area to build a school, but they don’t realize we have to be at full occupancy in order to start build on another,” Dr. Pletnick said.
As more people have moved into the Dysart boundaries, their choice to attend a charter school has decreased enrollment by about 2,100 students in the past three years.
New residential projects are starting up again and are expected to increase. Currently, subdivisions at Greer Ranch and Asante have the highest level of growth, followed by Surprise Farms and Marley Park and new construction is happening at Granite Vista and Sycamore Farms.
Charter schools, Lecay Traditional and Paradise Schools Inc., will expand next year and in the future. Growth is projected to be steady.
“Housing additions are up and should grow even more over the next three to four years,” Mr. Brammer said. “About 22,300 new units and 18,600 new households are expected over the next 10 years.”
Mr. Brammer said the trend capture rate results in a loss of 630 students next year, which effects long term projections. This year there was about 44 less students in K-12 throughout the district.
He said overall the study shows increases continuing in district high schools, while the younger group has declined.
“We plan to ride out the trend with the understanding of the room for growth the district continues to maintain,” Dr. Pletnick said.
Editor’s note: Ms. Jimenez is a Peoria-based freelance writer.

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