With the new school year just weeks away, Maryland’s largest school system has projected that its enrollment will continue to surge, rising to a record level of more than 159,000 students.
School officials in Montgomery County said the growth continues an eight-year trend of enrollment increases of more than 2,000 students a year. The county, with more than 200 schools, is among the state’s fastest-growing.
Maryland officials said Wednesday that they also expect statewide enrollment to tick up for the coming school year. No official projections were available.
Enrollment in Maryland’s public schools hit a record high of nearly 880,000 students in 2015-2016, a trend driven by growth in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. School systems that recorded enrollment spikes last year included Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, according to state data.
“It’s been a pretty solid jump over the last seven or eight years,” said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education. “Maryland schools have gained more than 30,000 students since 2009.”
In Montgomery, the number of additional students has been especially large — with 2,569 projected for the coming school year. Last year, 156,447 students attended classes in Montgomery.
School board President Michael A. Durso said the growth has become a yearly reality and does not look as though it’s about to slow.
“It’s been with us for long enough that I think we have systems in place to make the necessary adjustments,” he said. “But it is an ongoing challenge, primarily with classroom space. Most parts of the county are feeling the effects of this, and will continue to.”
Joel Gallihue, director of long-range planning for Montgomery schools, said birthrate trends and a continuing influx of families are spurring the growth. Perhaps the biggest factor, he said, is turnover in existing neighborhoods, where families with young children are moving into homes previously occupied by residents with grown children.
“It’s a little surprising when you see most of the enrollment growth is from existing homes,” he said.
Gallihue, who started in his position July 1, noted that Montgomery’s districtwide enrollment projections have tended to be very close to the actual enrollment, with about 99.8 to 99.9 percent accuracy during the past four school years.
To accommodate additional students, Montgomery has typically relied on classroom additions or other new construction as well as portable classroom trailers. In some schools, computer labs have been converted back into classrooms, as students increasingly use Chromebook laptops at their desks, Gallihue said.
This year, Montgomery is opening a middle school — Hallie Wells — in the Clarksburg area. It has also added capacity with additions at Julius West Middle School and Wood Acres Elementary.
But enrollment has long outpaced funding for new construction, many point out.
“I think we have to catch up and keep up, and it doesn’t seem we’re doing either one very well,” said school board member Patricia O’Neill (3rd District), who noted it takes four years from planning to completion of a school addition, if there is money enough to do it.
O’Neill and others say the county has not received its fair share of state-provided school construction funding. But she also said that almost every school system in Maryland needs additional construction money. “Our share needs to be bigger, but also the pot needs to be bigger,” she said.
Frances Frost, past president of Montgomery’s countywide council of parent-teacher associations, said the rising enrollment numbers add to concerns about funding and facilities. “Are we going to have enough resources to continue to educate our growing population?” she asked.
The expected increase in Montgomery comes as neighboring Prince George’s County also forecast a jump in enrollment for the coming school year — to 130,987, up by 2,051 students, a school district spokeswoman said.