It's official: Utah has a new largest school district.
The Alpine School District grew by 2,188 children this school year to 68,233 students, surpassing Granite School District as the state's biggest, according to newly released state enrollment numbers.
And Alpine's not done growing. Rhonda Bromley, district spokeswoman, said Alpine expects to welcome about 10,000 more students over the next five years.
"Alpine has been growing and is continuing to grow," Bromley said. "We know it's coming. We're prepared."
Alpine wasn't the only district to swell. Statewide, enrollment in districts and charter schools grew by nearly 2 percent or 11,500 students this year over last, coming in below projected estimates that enrollment could increase by more than 14,700 students. According to the new numbers, 587,745 students now fill Utah's public school classrooms.
Todd Hauber, state associate superintendent, said those 11,500 new students mean more teachers, programs and, in some cases, buildings.
"There are more students coming into the schools, so we just need to be ready to support them," Hauber said.
Hauber said the original estimate might have been off because fewer students than expected moved into schools from out of state, but it's difficult to tell exactly why the actual number was lower. He said because of that, it's possible there might be money left over, but he said that won't be known for sure until the end of the school year because of other factors.
Utah schools have faced a number of budget cuts over the past few years of the recession.
Of all the districts in the state, Alpine saw the biggest enrollment leap. Bromley said much of the increase in Alpine is a result of growth in a number of its communities, including Saratoga Springs, Eagle Mountain and Lehi. She said a lot of young families are moving into those areas.
All those new families mean new schools.
Over the past 10 years, Alpine has built 19 new schools, and plans to build another six in coming years, thanks to a $210 million bond voters approved last month. Alpine now has 79 schools.
The Davis district grew by 1,665 students this school year. And Jordan, Washington, Provo, and Nebo districts saw significant increases as well, among others.
But charter schools, as a group, experienced the largest growth.
Enrollment at Utah's 78 charter schools swelled to 44,892 students, an increase of 4,760 bodies, meaning about 7.6 percent of all public school students now attend charter schools, up from about 7 percent last year. Charter schools are independently run public schools.
"Parents are looking for different options and choices and the significant growth in charter schools shows that," said Chris Bleak, president of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. "I hope that as part of charter schools' missions to innovate and experiment, that some of the things that are attracting people to charter schools, that district schools will incorporate some of those into their programs."
While most school districts in Utah grew, a number actually saw declines.
Granite district, for example, lost its No. 1 spot partly because it shrunk by 656 students this year to 67,736. Granite was tied with Davis district as the state's second largest when the official enrollment count was done on Oct. 1.
Ben Horsley, Granite spokesman, said the new numbers aren't surprising although some areas of the district, such as West Valley City and Magna, are still growing. Granite has actually seen certain schools balloon over the past few years as families fill nearby apartment buildings, he said.
"What we're seeing is with a lot of our families who lived in traditional homes, single family dwellings, they have actually shifted over to other schools because they've moved to smaller homes or apartments because of the recession," Horsley said.
But that growth, he said, is being offset by declines in other areas within the district, such as South Salt Lake, Millcreek and Holladay, where residents are aging, leading to fewer children and more empty-nesters.
The Salt Lake City School District shrunk slightly, by 46 students to 23,919.
Generally, school enrollment in Utah has been growing for years, including by more than 13,000 students last year. Next year, another 12,479 students are expected in Utah schools. The state has not yet released data on the ethnic makeup of Utah school enrollment this year, though the school-age population has become increasingly diverse. Last year, ethnic minorities made nearly 22 percent of all Utah public school students.
Utah enrollment grows
The number of children attending Utah schools rose by nearly 2 percent to 587,745 students, according to the State Office of Education. Here are Utah's largest districts as of Oct. 1, when the official head count was done.
1. Alpine • 68,233
2. Davis and Granite (tie) • 67,736
3. Jordan • 50,581
4. Canyons • 33,490
5. Weber • 30,423
6. Nebo • 29,724
7. Washington • 26,206
8. Salt Lake City • 23,919