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Tigard-Tualatin school enrollment continues to drop

Trend of "aging in place" blamed for slight dip

Don't let the size of some classrooms in Tigard-Tualatin schools fool you, enrollment in the district is down a bit this year.

In a report released this week by Portland State University's Population Research Center, the Tigard-Tualatin School District has 12,366 students enrolled this year, marking the third straight year of decline for the district.

Before the recession, the district saw 20 years of sustained growth in enrollment, the report said.

This year is by far the smallest drop to date; 27 fewer students enrolled than expected.

The district's enrollment numbers were down by 74 students in 2010-11 and 128 students in 2009-10.

It's a phenomenon known as 'aging in place' said Charles Rynerson, a demographer with Portland State University. Fewer new families have moved into the school district and the families that are here are getting older and graduating from school.

'We think (the drop in students) is an anomaly,' Rynerson told the School Board on Monday. 'We think it is related to the recession and the lack of housing growth in the area. Tigard-Tualatin's growth has traditionally been because of new housing and the nation is less mobile right now.'

The Portland region lost about 60,000 jobs between the start of the recession in 2008 and now, the report said, which made it harder for the housing market to recover and families to move to the area.

The report also said that another contributor to the slight drop in students is the expansion of M.I.T.C.H. Charter School in Tualatin. The small school expanded by about 100 students this year, many of whom came from Tigard-Tualatin schools.

In addition, a low birth rate also attributed to the economy is likely to keep elementary classes lower over the next few years.

But there's good news on the horizon, Rynerson said. Over the next decade the district is expected to rebound, growing by about 8 percent to a student population with nearly 1,000 more students by the year 2022.

The increase will likely start when the housing market and economy picks up, Rynerson said.

Understanding how the population will grow over time is important for the school district, which has to plan years in advance to anticipate future budgets and build new schools to handle growth.

'When I was a kid, it seemed that my school board was in the real estate business,' said School Board Member Barry Albertson on Monday. 'I know land is as inexpensive now as it's going to be, so should we be looking at buying land over the next five or eight years out and really prepare for what we have?'

The area of west Bull Mountain is expected to grow greatly over the next several years but has stalled since the recession. The district has already purchased land to build a new elementary school or middle school in the area, and both of the district's high schools are over capacity, necessitating a new high school at some point in the future.

The Tigard-Tualatin area shares a similar mix of housing and demographics with the Portland-metropolitan area, Rynerson said.

In the school district and the region nearly a third of all households have a school-age child living in them.

'In some ways you are a microcosm of the Metropolitan area,' Rynerson said.

Metro, the regional government, estimates that there is space for almost 4,000 housing units on vacant land within the school district, and room for another 6,500 units on land that is currently developed or partially developed, the report said.

Until the housing market recovers, Rynerson said that the district would likely have another two years of stagnant or slightly lower enrollment figures until the numbers begin to turn around.

'In the recession, some districts are growing, like Beaverton and Portland,' Rynerson said. 'It is really having some uneven impacts on school districts.'