Written by Mike Martin
COLUMBIA, 3/17/12 (Beat Byte) -- A historical database of enrollment at Columbia Public Schools (CPS) suggests slower student population growth than district officials claim as they push for $220 million in bond debt and higher taxes from this year until 2020 to build new schools.
CPS reports current 2011-12 enrollment at 17,709 K-12 students. In 2001-02, enrollment was 16,451, a student population increase in ten years of 1,258.
That works out to be 7.6% growth in a decade, or about 0.76%, on average, per year. During three periods over the last decade, CPS actually lost students.
The highest student growth occurred between 2005 and 2006, with a gain of 431. Since then, student growth has plummeted by more than two thirds, averaging 130 students per year over the past five years.
Rather than building several new elementary schools far from town, why not build
permanent "eco-schoolhouses" to replace trailers in existing schools?
In contrast, CPS grew from 12,954 students in 1990-91 to 16,207 students in 2000-01, a gain of 3,253 students or 25% in the prior 10-year period. Like the slowing birth rate, CPS' days of heady student growth seem past.
By grade, CPS K-5 enrollment has experienced the largest increase in the last ten years, from 7,722 to 8,765, or roughly 1.3% per year. Grade 6-9 enrollment has been flat. In 2001-02, it was 4,968. In 2011-12, it was 5,101 -- a gain of 133 students in 10 years, or 2.6%.
High school enrollment is similarly flat, gaining just 82 students in ten years: 3,761 in 2001-02; 3,843 in 2011-12. Nonetheless, since 2002, CPS has taken on roughly $225 million in bond debt primarily to build new schools.
Enrollment figures are highest in elementary schools, so rather than building more schools far from town, why not build permanent, energy-friendly "eco-schoolhouses" such as the one at Grant Elementary to replace trailers at existing schools?
One possible answer: The strategy of adding on to existing schools doesn't allow developers to sell land, erect huge new subdivisions next door, and charge the infrastructure to school bond debt and tax levy increases.