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Enrollment increases in all Tri-City school districts

Wednesday was a big day for the man in charge of providing classrooms to Pasco students.

For weeks, projections had been made, portable classrooms allotted to schools and teachers hired. Now it was time to see whether the calculations matched reality.

"I'm sitting here going 'Oh, my gosh,' " said John Morgan, Pasco schools' director of operations, late Wednesday.

It all worked out. "We're full, but as of today, we're in good shape," he said.

And although Pasco once again seems to be experiencing the greatest student enrollment growth, Morgan might as well have been speaking for the other Tri-City districts.

After phasing in the school year for select grades Tuesday, preliminary enrollment numbers for Wednesday show increases across all schools and all ages in every district, although growth was slim in Richland.

The swelling student counts came as no surprise.

Pasco

Projections for Pasco were "spot on," Morgan said. The district had about 7,700 elementary students and almost 3,400 middle school students enrolled on the first full day of school.

Both numbers are about 6 percent higher than last year's.

If the 6-percent increase holds true across all grades, Pasco would gain about 900 students this year and end up with about 15,800 students.

Just over 3,700 high school students were enrolled on Wednesday, but that count is sure to rise over the next few days, said Superintendent Saundra Hill. Last year, Pasco had 3,900 high school students after Labor Day, according to state records.

The district added 10 portables with two classrooms each this year, Morgan said. That creates space for about 500 extra students, which is why there were no problems accommodating the flood of kids Wednesday, he said.

But that may not be the case next year. Pasco is "getting closer and closer" to the breaking point, Morgan said. This is mainly because the district can't keep adding portables, as it's running out of room on its grounds and in its cafeterias and other common spaces.

Kennewick

More portables also appeared around Kennewick schools this summer to make room for more students. The district bought 12 that hold one classroom each, which means they provide space for about 250 kids total.

Kennewick's enrollment on the first day of the school year cannot be compared to last year's average enrollment because the district has the Tri-Tech Skills Center. Students from across the Mid-Columbia can sign up for the vocational courses offered there as early as March -- and show up in Wednesday's enrollment numbers, said Superintendent Dave Bond.

But they may have decided not to attend in the months since without canceling their registration. Tri-Tech's numbers are notoriously inflated in the first few days of the year, often by hundreds of students, until officials establish who's actually showing up for class, Bond said.

That seems to the case this year, too. Wednesday's snap shot showed nearly 5,700 high school students in the district, which would be an increase of more than 300 over last year's September number.

But Bond estimated that the entire district -- across all grades -- grew by about 300 this year, based on more reliable numbers from the lower grades. That would bring its total to almost 16,500 students.

Nearly 7,200 kids were enrolled in Kennewick elementary schools and 3,600 had signed up for middle schools Wednesday. Those numbers are up slightly over last year, although individual schools saw significant increases.

The greatest growth continues to be in the Badger Canyon and Rancho Reata areas, Bond said. The elementary schools near there -- Cottonwood, Ridge View and Sunset View -- are filling up quickly, Bond said.

Cottonwood, which only opened last year, already needed two portables this year. The school board years ago had decided not to build elementary schools for more than about 550 kids to preserve a sense of community in the schools, Bond said. Cottonwood quickly reached that limit.

But the district has land in Badger Canyon on which to build a new elementary in the future, Bond said.

Richland

The biggest area of growth in Richland is on the south end of town. White Bluffs, Badger and Wiley elementary schools showed big increases in enrollment.

All three schools had around 100 kindergartners registered, said Mike Hansen, director of K-5 instruction. Kindergarten enrollment at other schools in the district hovers around 70.

Richland had about 4,800 kids enrolled in elementary schools, 2,550 in middle schools and 3,700 in high schools on the first day. Those numbers are about even with last year's Labor Day count.

But Three Rivers Home Link, a service for students who spent part of the time home-schooling with parents and part in a classroom rented from a Richland church, grew by almost 100 students, to just over 400.

The district had 2.5 percent more students enrolled on the first day this year -- about 11,400 -- than it did a year ago. But those numbers will probably come down a little, Hansen said.

Richland last year averaged nearly 11,200 students.

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