Peoria Unified officials

Highlighting a few schools nearing capacity, Peoria Unified officials presented a picture of the current student populations of each school, as well as projections for future enrollment.

Peoria Unified School District elementary schools had an 8% decrease in enrollment this year—though high schools had slightly higher enrollment.

Open-enrollment funding, school capacity data and overcrowding concerns were discussed at the Sept. 24 Peoria Unified School governing board meeting.

After lengthy discussion, the board approved a one-year open-enrollment plan. All PUSD schools and all grade levels have excess capacity and are allowed to accept additional students.

“I brought to you a new timeline, with a focus on allowing our families and our schools additional time to be able to prepare ... in order to decide how we implement our open-enrollment process,” PUSD Superintendent Jason Reynolds said.

Reynolds said school officials will be able to determine capacity based on specific facilities.

“What this does is allow our principals to continue to monitor their situation throughout the open-enrollment process and then when it is time to let families know whether or not we’re able to accept them under an open enrollment,” Reynolds said.

PUSD Director of Research Mike Maas shared the pre-COVID-19 findings from a February study and a March future enrollment growth trend report.

Maas said the two reports capture a snapshot of all current PUSD school capacity and what the district should expect in the next five years.

“They compare that with how we’re growing, Maas said. “They look at all of our new developments. They look at our trends in terms of capture rates, birth rates—lots of information that gives us then an estimate of what our enrollment will be for the next five, even 10 years in most cases.”

According to Maas, at PUSD elementary schools, 23,865 students were enrolled in 2019-20. 

He reported a decrease of 1,999 students for the current school year. 

Maas added that PUSD elementary school projected enrollment is expected to increase to 24,845 students by 2024-25.

Lake Pleasant’s student enrollment increased from 890 students to 899 in school year 2020-21. Maas said the analysis indicates Sunset Heights will likely face overcrowding issues next year.

“That red line jumps out at you pretty quickly, because what that tells me is that the one that’s really over is Sunset Heights,” Maas stated. “I’m going to use the term ‘appears’ to be over because I want to talk to you about how we work with this information, so from there, you can see everyone, and again, we know that enrollment is down in our schools.”

Maas said PUSD high school enrollment slightly ticked up from 13,045 students in 2019-20 to 13,111 this year. Maas said PUSD expects to experience an enrollment increase to 13,506 students by school year 2024-25.

Maas said Cactus, Ironwood and Sunrise Mountain high schools had declining enrollment.

Centennial, Peoria, Raymond S. Kellis and Liberty high schools increased enrollment.

Liberty, he noted, is “overcrowded or bigger than what we had recommended capacity,” Maas said.

But, he added: “I’m scared to say this out loud, but there are times when we need to disregard the data. And I think that this is one of those times.”

Maas said current PUSD high school enrollment might decrease due to students choosing online learning.

“I think this is a long-term implication for education. And as much as we hear about some of the students not being successful, I believe there’s a big group of them who are successful and are going to continue to choose to be online in the future,” Maas said.

Board member Monica Ceja Martinez said students could find it difficult to get into specific programs due to the overcrowding. She stressed that she does not want PUSD students to slip through the cracks and go unnoticed.

“This is the second year we’ve changed the policy in an effort to help mitigate class sizes overcrowding,” Ceja Martinez said. “I’m concerned about and acknowledging the information ... as a result of our new environment.”

Ceja Martinez said she is concerned by recent high school overcrowding trends with regard to Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC) social distancing recommendations.

“It’s also important to note that we’re here with this recommendation because of the past six months, because of COVID-19,” Reynolds noted.

According to the Arizona School Boards Association, eighth-grade students currently enrolled in a district elementary school who want to attend an out-of-district high school must fill out an open-enrollment application between Oct. 1 and Dec. 1 of their eighth-grade year.

The application must be submitted directly to the high school of the student’s choice.

All new students must submit open-enrollment applications between Oct. 1 and Dec. 1 to be considered for open enrollment during the following school year.

The district has 34 elementary schools, seven high schools and one nontraditional high school. 

For more information on enrollment, visit peoriaunified.org/domain/96.