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On Pace For 60,000 Kids By Decade's End, Seattle Schools' Enrollment Grows Again

Portable classrooms at an elementary school.

Another 1,300 children will pack into already-crowded Seattle Public Schools next year as the district rides a wave of population growth that, if trends hold, could swell enrollment to more than 60,000 students by the end of the decade.

Projections district administrators released Tuesday show enrollment growing to more than 52,300 students next school year — an increase of more than 7,000 students from seven years ago, when enrollment bottomed-out after a decade of decline.

The rapid growth has left the district short on classroom space. Though Seattle voters approved a $694 million property tax increase to fund a package of new school construction and renovations, district officials have also deployed a fleet of nearly 200 portables to accommodate students at many of the city's 95 schools.

"Capacity is probably our number one challenge right now," said assistant superintendent Flip Herndon, who oversees Seattle Public Schools' facilities and building projects, in an interview last week.

Especially at the elementary level, many of the district's older schools were designed to hold smaller populations of students. As Seattle Public Schools has grown, Herndon said the district has "lost that luxury" of keeping elementary sizes small.

That's a fact administrators are keeping in mind as they oversee 17 major building projects that the $694 million "BEX IV" property tax levy is funding.

"We need to make sure we can deliver on those projects so that the voters will continue to want to support Seattle Public Schools," Herndon said — a task that involves upgrading space as well as adding it.

The district will likely need to ask voters to raise their own property taxes again in the future to address ongoing capacity needs, Herndon added. The district projects the present trend of enrollment growth to continue "over the next decade."

Between portable and permanent classrooms, Herndon said the district has enough space to house all of the students whom officials project to enroll.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.