Pasco schools nearly overtake Kennewick in student enrollment this year

Kennewick continues to be the largest school district in the Tri-Cities, but not by much.

After the first week of classes, 19,250 students were enrolled in Kennewick schools, an uptick of about 140 from last year.

The small gain puts the district about 600 students ahead of Pasco. That’s about the size of a large elementary school.

Richland and Pasco already reported enrollment figures, but Kennewick’s teacher strike delayed the start of the school year and delayed reports.

More exact enrollment figures may be coming by the end of the week, Kennewick officials said.

Enrollment matters because state funding for schools is driven by the number of full-time students attending classes at the beginning of October.

Last year, lower-than-predicted enrollment exacerbated Richland’s and Kennewick’s budget shortfall issues. Both districts adjusted their goals down for this year, and hit their target.

Growth slowing

While Kennewick generally grew about 400 students each year for much of the past decade, those numbers dipped last year and are heading in the same direction this year.

Kennewick’s enrollment growth is mixed, depending on the school. The boundary changes that went into effect this year put 167 more students at Amistad Elementary, making it the second-largest elementary school in the district.

Just down the street at Westgate Elementary, those same changes meant the school had 75 fewer students. Overall, elementary schools had 58 fewer students than last year.

Middle schools saw the largest increase, with 118 more students. About half of that was at Horse Heaven HIlls.

Enrollment was boosted by 900 students through the district’s home school program, the Mid-Columbia Parent Partnership, and its career and technical education program, the Tri-Tech Skills Center.

Numbers in Richland also seem to be growing slower. The district had 13,486 students before counting Running Start students, an increase of about 229 students over last fall. The growth was fairly evenly split between middle and elementary schools when compared to the same time the previous year.

Temporary Tapteal to open
Kindergarten teachers Amber Reynolds, Julie Dockter, Caroline Wittman, Staci Wertenberger and Toni Cuello, from left, hold an informal team meeting in one of classrooms of the new Tapteal Elementary school building on Sunshine Avenue in West Richland. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

“After a period of rapid growth, elementary enrollment has been mostly stable for three years, reflecting smaller entering-kindergarten classes,” Superintendent Rick Schulte wrote in a report to the school board.

With the addition of classrooms, the average elementary school class size was just over 21 students, a drop of five, on average, from five years ago.

Fewer schools in Pasco

Pasco’s latest figures put the district at 18,650 students at the end of last week after welcoming 1,400 freshman to the high schools, which was the largest class in the district’s history.

While it will have the same number of elementary schools as Kennewick next fall, it still has one fewer middle school and comprehensive high school.

The district has started planning for a third high school. A group of parents, district employees and community members is looking at what should be included in a new high school.

The meetings could be the prelude to the district asking voters to pass a bond measure to build a new school for high school students.

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.