AMERICAN FORK — The Alpine School District grew by 1,350 students, despite the opening of four new charter schools within its boundaries that took 2,000 students, most of them local.

The numbers are preliminary, taken Sept. 5, and are compared to the enrollment of 54,773 counted Oct. 1, 2005.

Official enrollment numbers for the 2006-07 school year will be tallied Oct. 1 and submitted to the Utah State Office of Education.

"The bottom line is we have 1,350 students more than we had last year," Assistant Superintendent Gary Seastrand said. "And of that, there are 709 new elementary students, 273 new junior high students, 369 new high school students."

The northern end of the district's boundaries experienced the most growth — Saratoga Springs, Eagle Mountain, Lehi, Highland, Alpine and Cedar Hills.

Orem experienced an enrollment decline of 447 students.

In addition to the opening of four charter schools, the school district built and opened three elementary schools this year and changed the boundaries of 11 other schools, which shifted school populations. Some schools are larger than they were last year. Others are smaller.

Enrollment is closely tied to the number of staff that must be hired. At some schools, the district hired too many teachers.

At schools such as Lehi's Sego Lily Elementary, excess teachers were transferred to other schools. At other schools, such as Eaglecrest, also in Lehi, the extra teachers will remain on staff because the district expects new families to move into the area as construction finishes on housing developments.

At other schools, there is a need for teachers, particularly in some categories, such as a social studies teacher for Timberline Junior High in Alpine. Districtwide, there is a need for 6.59 full-time equivalent teachers, not counting the positions for special education teachers that have not been filled for years, Seastrand said.

The district struggled to determine exactly where teachers and staff were needed, and tried to be conservative with hiring decisions. Seastrand recalled hiring about eight years ago, when the district tried to be generous and ended up with 20 extra full-time employees.

"It was $1 million (in salaries)," he said. "After that, we were pretty conservative on how we allocated (full-time employees)."

This fall, the district was only 0.7 percent off in estimating the increase in enrollment, but Seastrand wishes the state would pass a law requiring parents who are considering charter schools to decide by June each year.

Rebecca Whitchurch, chairwoman of the Board of Trustees for Mountainville Academy, one of the four charter schools, said she had parents deciding against sending their children to Mountainville just two weeks before school started and enrolled their students in Alpine schools. Still, she's against a deadline for parents.

"I think that parents definitely have a choice to make and sometimes that choice is difficult for them to make, so they take as long as they can to make their decision," she said. "And that's pretty normal. They want what's best for their children."


E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com