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Will more schools be needed?

Officials plan for growth despite slight dip in student enrollment

Enrollment in the Hillsboro School District is down by about 230 students overall from this time last year. The school district has a total of 20,509 students this year, but that is just the short-term picture.

School district administrators and board members are looking to the future, because student population growth represents the future of the Hillsboro School District, they say.

With the South Hillsboro residential area in the works -- where 1,400 acres of land are on the verge of beginning development -- district officials are considering putting a construction bond in front of voters as soon as November 2017, a date that would coincide with the payoff of other district debt. Voters could, in theory, approve a bond without seeing an increase in property taxes, the district's chief financial officer Adam Stewart said.

At a meeting last week, board members heard from Jeannine Rustad, the city of Hillsboro's planning director for the South Hillsboro area, who said infrastructure construction is set to begin in mid-2015, with development of dwellings beginning in late 2015 or early 2016.

For the school district, that translates to more students, which down the road will require the district to build more schools.

The Hillsboro School District owns about 50 acres at different locations in South Hillsboro, enough room to build as many as three elementary schools and a middle school. In addition, during the last school year, the district bought 40 acres just outside of South Hillsboro, south of Rosedale Road, for a future high school site.

Also included in the district's long-range planning efforts is the development of South Cooper Mountain, about half of which is within the school district's boundaries, said school district Superintendent Mike Scott. The district does not own land in South Cooper Mountain.

School board member Erik Seligman asked whether the district's long-range planning includes "looking at aggressively expanding options for education that doesn't require as much square footage (of school space) per student," such as online courses. Scott said the committee has not looked specifically at that option.

In February 2014, district officials held a series of meetings to gather public input on proposed changes to school attendance boundaries affecting a handful of elementary schools, most notably Orenco and Quatama.

The school board eventually approved boundary adjustments to make room for additional students coming from 1,650 new housing units that were recently built or are now under construction in the Orenco Station community.

So far this school year, a large influx of new students has not been seen. At Orenco, the district projected 631 students for the 2014-15 school year, but actual enrollment is 598 as of mid-September. At Quatama, enrollment is 470, six students more than projected.

Stewart, who headed the boundary adjustment team, said there are no over-capacity schools this year.

The district's planning committee will continue this year to prepare for the proposed bond in 2017, assess new construction needs and monitor the growing list of needed maintenance and repairs at existing school facilities.

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