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Moorhead enrollment exceeds expectations, opening day sees nearly 300 more students

The hallways bustle with activity on Tuesday, Sept. 4, at the conclusion of the first day of classes at Robert Asp Elementary in Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum1 / 2
Robert Asp Elementary school crossing guard Lake Parr, 9, blows her whistle to stop traffic on Tuesday, Sept. 4, after the first day of classes.David Samson / The Forum2 / 2

MOORHEAD — Brandon Lunak said he's had a lot of first days during his career in public education, but Tuesday, Sept 4., was his official first day of school as Superintendent of Moorhead Area Public School District.

"I couldn't be happier with the way the day has started," he said. "With transportation, to food service, to getting students in the classroom. It's been a very positive opening day."

That extended to district enrollment numbers, which on Tuesday, the first day of classes, showed Moorhead just shy of 7,000 students in grades K-12 — 286 more students than last year.

Lunak said projections for the 2018-19 school year were south of 6,800.

The district has been experiencing about 4 percent enrollment growth the past four years.

"We were surprised and in reality I shouldn't be because in the four years I've been here we've always exceeded projections," he said.

In the Fargo and West Fargo school districts, the first day of school was on Aug. 23 and 28, respectively.

Enrollment for the two neighboring districts is much greater than Moorhead, with Fargo at 11,445 students and 11,080 in West Fargo.

The boost in Moorhead's enrollment is not isolated to any one grade, though looking specifically at third grade, Lunak said growth continues to be a surprise.

While all other elementary grades hover between 520 and 570 students, third grade is at 620.

Open enrollment only accounts for 30 of the district's overall enrollment of 7,000.

Lunak said most new students are from families moving to Moorhead, rather than students transferring from districts like West Fargo or Fargo.

A student living in Fargo could attend the Moorhead district, but the family would be charged out-of-state tuition.

Lunak said that tuition amount is the same as the per-pupil funding the district receives from the Minnesota Department of Education, which this year is at $6,312.

Despite the uptick in enrollment, Lunak said there is still room in the district to accommodate more students.

"The growth is good and we're handling that and we're going to look at plans to continue evaluating where we're at with our facilities," he said.

Down the road, however, the district may be looking at having to create space for more sections.

Already this school year, elementary schools have 120 sections, with Ellen Hopkins adding another section.

Lunak noted that last year the district opened Dorothy Dodds Elementary School for grades K-4 and Horizon Middle School West Campus for grades 5-6.

Just one year after those new buildings opened, elementary schools in the district are one section short of capacity.

"We're almost out of our ability to create additional sections," Lunak said.

"That poses a problem; if we continue to have growth, in reality we have no places to put new sections," he added. "Once we run out of space, then I think we really have to look at our facility needs long term."

A High School Facilities Task Force will begin meeting this month to address facility needs for grades 9-12.

A relatively large grade 9 class entered Moorhead High this school year, following the graduation of a relatively smaller grade 12 class last spring.

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyatt is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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