Projections show Iowa City school district's growth accelerating

New projection for 2022-2023 school year already 5 percent higher than last spring

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The Iowa City Community School District is growing so fast even its enrollment projections cannot keep up.

In a report released Wednesday, consultant DeJONG-RICHTER calculates the district will have 16,133 kindergarten through 12th grade students in the 2022-23 school year.

Just last spring, the Ohio-based educational planning firm put the number for that year at 15,372 students.  The new projection is 5 percent higher.

The enrollment projections, which are part of a broader report, come as the school board is debating a timeline for the implementation of a 10-year, $258 million facilities plan.

That work has been based on last spring’s enrollment projections. District administrators said Wednesday there is no need to update the facilities plan at this time.

“Eventually yes, but right now, no,” Superintendent Stephen Murley said.

He referred to a discussion among school board members at a meeting Tuesday in which they said the facilities plan is a road map for the next decade that will need to be revisited annually.

The board hopes to vote on the timeline for the plan on Dec. 10.

The new projections go out to the 2023-24 school year, predicting the district will have 16,418 students. That would be a 27 percent increase over this year’s enrollment of 12,894.

The facilities plan calls for a new high school and three new elementary schools to be built, along with additions at many more buildings. Considering the new projections, the district would still have enough capacity in the high schools and would be slightly short at the junior high and elementary school levels, said David Dude, the district’s chief operating officer.

“I think that’s the emphasis that we’ve been talking with the board about, the need to update every year,” he said.

Projections are less accurate the further out they are, but recent history shows that the Iowa City school district’s actual enrollment typically outpaces expectations.

The enrollment report includes information on student demographics, a topic that has received a lot of attention since last December because of a diversity policy the school board adopted.

The policy requires the use of free or reduced-price lunch rates to try to achieve better socioeconomic balance across the district’s schools. Elementary schools can be no more than 15 percentage points above the districtwide average for K-6 students, the junior high schools must be within 15 percentage points of each other and there can be no more than a 10 percentage point difference between City High and West High.

The policy is to be fully implemented in grades K-8 in five years and in two years for the high schools.

If it were in effect now, six elementary schools, the high schools and North Central and South East junior high schools would be in violation.

School boundaries are going to need to be redrawn to come into compliance, including at the high schools within the next two years, Murley said.

The opening of new schools is expected to help with some of that, but two of the elementary schools and the new high school are not scheduled to open until 2019.

“That’s going to be a significant challenge for us,” Murley said.

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