Declining Enrollment Not a Concern for HPISD Leaders

Some HPISD parents say declining enrollment, the addition of the fifth-elementary campus completed last year, and other projects will give the district moe capacity than needed. (Photo: William Taylor)

Highland Park ISD is in the midst of remaking its elementary schools, but downward student enrollment trends have some residents wondering if the work will create empty school desks.

A $361.4 million bond package passed in 2015 covers the demolition and reconstruction of two HPISD schools in the next two years, as well as the demolition and ongoing reconstruction of University Park Elementary, set to open for the fall.

Armstrong Elementary, will also receive renovations.

An unnamed fifth campus, completed last year, is housing displaced students while schools are rebuilt. It will open as the district’s fifth elementary school in 2020.

While the plan initially seemed full-proof, concern has started to grow in the community.

Students from Hyer Elementary will be at the unnamed fifth school for two years, according to school board members, so that Bradfield Elementary students can attend Hyer while Bradfield is rebuilt.

Some Hyer students also will be rezoned to the new fifth school when it begins accepting full-time students.

But the idea of their children possibly moving schools twice during their elementary tenure has some parents upset, and a recent decline in enrollment has those same parents questioning whether a new school is even necessary and whether scheduled elementary projects should continue as planned.

Hyer Elementary School parents share their concerns during a meeting at University Park United Methodist Church. (Photo: William Taylor)

At a neighborhood meeting earlier this year, some claimed that if current enrollment trends continue, the district could have 950 more elementary school seats than it needs without rebuilding Hyer and Bradfield.

But district officials claim the fifth elementary school – and subsequent projects, like replacing Hyer with potentially a three-story building – are all being made with an eye to the future.

“Schools were at or above capacity prior to the building of the new schools, which are being built to anticipate growth during the next 20 to 30 years,” said Jon Dahlander, HPISD director of communications. “We are not anticipating growth for the next two years, but we believe that enrollment will grow after all of the construction projects are completed.”

Dahlander noted that the district grew from 4,091 students to 7,091 from 1989 to 2014, but there has been a steady decline in students since then: the 2015-2016 numbers were reported as 7,081; 2016-2017 was 7,044; and this year’s numbers dipped to 6,991.

Elementary school numbers specifically have been down since the 2015-16 school year, as well. Enrollment for grades kindergarten through fifth grade went from 3,250 in 2015 to 3,146 in 2016, down to 3,073 in 2017.

“I’m not sure how [the 950 empty seats] is being calculated,” Dahlander said. “But, there’s no question that one of the goals of the construction program is to increase capacity.”

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