The AJC has a good story this morning on the statewide slowdown in student enrollment, which is most visible in Gwinnett, a district accustomed to welcoming thousands of new students each year. In 2006-2007 alone, Gwinnett added 7,400 students.
The story reports that for the first time in at least 30 years, Gwinnett expects to begin next year with fewer than 1,000 new students. The district anticipates 692 new kids in August when the 2012-2013 school year commences.
J. Alvin Wilbanks, Gwinnett County’s CEO and superintendent, attributes the enrollment slowdown to the economic downturn. It’s the same in other districts — just more glaring in Gwinnett, the nation’s 12th-largest school district and a record-setter for years in growth. Wilbanks and school system planners see a quick, albeit small rebound. In the meantime, said school system spokeswoman Sloan Roach, “it’s nice to take a breath and catch up.”
The district added eight new schools in 2010 and one in 2011, moves that have allowed some students to shift from trailers to more traditional classrooms, Roach said. In addition, the school system for the first time will be investing nearly half of the proceeds from its next five-year sales tax in technology. In the past, because of enrollment increases, that money has mostly been used to build new schools and expand others, Roach said.
The district still has areas where school overcrowding is an issue. One middle school is over capacity by hundreds of students, but will see some relief when a new school built with sales tax revenue opens in the Peachtree Ridge cluster in 2014. By 2015, a new high school will open, eliminating the need for portable classrooms at Berkmar and Central Gwinnett high schools, district spokesman Jorge Quintana said.
Enrollment in neighboring Fulton County is still going up, though not at the pace it once did, and Cobb County’s enrollment basically has been flat for years.
Between October 2010 and October 2011, all 180 of the state’s public schools collectively added about 8,000 new students. That’s fewer newer students than the Gwinnett school system took in during the 2005-2006 school year after the influx of Hurricane Katrina victims.
Jim Skinner, a planner with the Atlanta Regional Commission, said school districts are seeing a “blow-back effect or residual effect from the economic slowdown.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog