It's simple logic. If an area's population is growing, it's likely that those larger numbers will be reflected in school enrollments.

In the 1990s, three states — California, Texas and Florida — each grew by more than three million people. So it's no surprise that school districts from those states dominate the list of the 100 largest school districts in the United States. Forty-one of the districts are from those states, and many of those are among the nation's fastest-growing large districts.

The annual list compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics of the nation's largest school districts provides insight into which areas of the country are booming and where new school facilities are likely to be needed.

The size of school districts depends on how the boundaries are decided. New York, the second most populous state, has the largest school district in the nation in New York City. But the next largest district in the state, Buffalo, barely squeaked onto the list at 100. Florida, whose districts are formed countywide, has seen the steady population growth there result in massive districts — of the 25 school systems with enrollments greater than 100,000 in 2001-02, seven are in Florida.

For instance, Clark County, Nev., opened 12 schools last month to try to keep up with space needs. Voters in the Los Angeles district approved a $3.3 billion package last year to pay for new school facilities.

Little turnover

The schools on the list don't change much from year to year. For 2001-02, only three districts — Capistrano (Calif.) Unified District (95th), Howard County, Md. (96th), and Forsyth County, N.C. (98th) — are newcomers to the list, supplanting Shelby County, Tenn. (93rd in 2000), Cincinnati (95th) and St. Paul (100th).

Over 10 years, the list has shown a little more movement. Eleven districts that were among the 100 largest in 1991-92 have been supplanted in 2001 by faster-growing school systems. School districts that were among the top 100 in 1991-92 that are no longer on the list for 2001-02 are Cincinnati; Newark; Indianapolis; Charleston County, S.C.; Escambia County, Fla.; Birmingham, Ala.; Corpus Christi, Texas; Tulsa, Okla.; Jefferson County, Ala.; St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Districts on the latest list that didn't appear in 1991-92 are Capistrano; Howard County; Forsyth County; Clayton County, Ga.; Alpine, Utah; Plano, Texas; Elk Grove (Calif.) Unified; Garland, Texas; Pasco County, Fla.; Fort Bend, Texas; and Guilford County, N.C.

Looking at the raw statistics, Guilford County, N.C., is the school district that has shown the most growth from 1991 to 2001. However, most of its 155 percent enrollment spurt can be attributed to the merger of Guilford County, Greensboro and High Point school districts in the early 1990s. Setting that aside, the district on the list with the greatest growth is Clark County, Nev., which has ridden the boom in Las Vegas to an enrollment climb of 90 percent in 10 years.

Texas has the most districts with 15 (Florida and California have 13 each), but the Florida districts on the list represent the most students. The 13 Florida school systems account for 1,759,077 students, 16.6 percent of the 10,609,303 students in the 100 largest districts.

Eighteen of the districts on this year's list have experienced enrollment declines over the past 10 years. The largest drop was in the East Baton Rouge, La., Parish, which last month ended a 47-year desegregation lawsuit. Its enrollment slid 16.8 percent from 1991 to 2001. The District of Columbia school system experienced a 15.1 percent decline in those years, and three other districts in Louisiana — Orleans Parish, Caddo Parish and Jefferson Parish — saw enrollments decline at least 10 percent.

Other facts:

  • The highest per-pupil expenditure for 2000-01 among the 100 largest districts was $12,104 in Boston; the lowest was $4,117 in the Alpine district in American Fork, Utah. (Per-pupil expenditures nationwide averaged $7,284.) In fact, only four of the 100 largest districts had per-pupil expenditures less than $5,000, and all four were in Utah.

  • Nineteen states have no districts among the 100 largest; New Jersey is the most populous state not represented on the list.

  • All 13 Florida districts on the 2001 list grew in enrollment during the previous decade, from Duval County, whose enrollment rose 9.9 percent, to Broward County, which rose 54 percent to move from the 8th to 5th largest district in the nation.

  • The 100 largest districts, as a group, saw enrollment rise 16.4 percent from 1991 to 2001; public school districts overall saw enrollment rise 11.5 percent in the same period.

  • Georgia had six districts on the list; five districts surrounding Atlanta — Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Clayton counties — grew between 27 and 69 percent from 1991 to 2001, but the Atlanta district saw enrollment decline by 5.5 percent in the same period.

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at mkennedy@primediabusiness.com.


SIDEBAR: Remaking the campus at Ohio State University

As the campus with the second-largest enrollment in the United States, Ohio State University in Columbus is continually upgrading its facilities to keep up with the needs of students and staff. Several major projects are underway to enhance the campus experience for the nearly 48,000 students:

  • To relieve crowding in its residence halls, the university is building its first new student housing in more than 30 years. The 220,850-square-foot, four-building complex cost $32.3 million to build. It is scheduled to open this fall and will accommodate 504 graduate and undergraduate students.

  • A new student recreation center is under construction. The $140 million project encompasses more than 600,000 square feet and will include swimming pools, basketball and volleyball courts, fitness and conditioning space, meeting rooms, racquetball courts, lounges, a student-wellness center and other amenities. The first phase is expected to be finished in 2004.

  • A $32 million facility to house the university's Knowlton School of Architecture is scheduled to be completed next year. The five-story, 145,000-square-foot building will allow the school, whose space has been scattered among several campus facilities, to be housed under one roof. It will be outfitted with 580 student workstations.

  • A $16 million renovation will turn the 100-year-old Page Hall into a new home for the John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy. Most of the interior will be gutted, and by converting the three-story structure to four floors, it will increase the building's square footage from 48,000 to 59,000.

  • A $50 million physics research building is under construction and should be completed in 2004. The 233,000-square-foot structure will house administrative and faculty offices, conference rooms and 210 laboratory modules.

  • A $24 million renovation of Hagerty Hall will provide a new home for the World Media and Culture Center. When completed in 2004, it will include a 250-seat auditorium, a videoconferencing room, gallery and exhibition space, and foreign-language department offices.


SIDEBAR: Palm Beach schools sweat out space crunch

Size is relative.

Compared with most of the nearly 15,000 school districts in the United States, the Palm Beach County, Fla., school system appears to be a behemoth of more than 160,000 students — the nation's 14th largest. But to Joseph Sanches, Palm Beach's chief of facilities management, the district's size is pretty manageable when one considers the two really big districts immediately to the south — Broward County and Miami-Dade County.

“I can't imagine how difficult it must be to have a district like Dade County with 300 or 400 schools,” says Sanches. “We're at a good size. We can take advantage of a lot of buying power.”

The size of the district also allows it to save money on construction costs by using the same designs at several sites.

This year, Palm Beach opened four new schools and eight “modernizations,” in which most of the aging facilities on an existing campus are replaced. Over five years, Palm Beach has spent $1.4 billion to build 15 new schools and modernize 37 others.

But it's not enough to handle the additional students who flock to the district each year — about 4,700. To address space needs, the district is planning to put a bond issue before voters next year.

“We're looking at something in the $500 million to $600 million range,” says Sanches. “But we really have needs that far outstrip that. We have about $2 billion in needs over the next five years.”

The need for new facilities is heightened by the class-reduction mandates approved last year by Florida voters. In its new schools, Palm Beach will shrink the size of classrooms — from about 970 to 900 square feet — so that school sites can accommodate more classrooms. The district also will build additions at existing schools to abide by the mandates.

Projections show the growth continuing for several years. “I don't see it slowing down anytime soon,” says Sanches.


SIDEBAR: They keep coming to Capistrano

With steady enrollment growth of 3 to 7 percent each year, the Capistrano Unified School District in Orange County, Calif., joined the ranks of the nation's 100 largest school districts in 2001-02. As more homes are built in the 200-square-mile district, the numbers continue to rise, and this year nearly 50,000 students fill district classrooms.

“We spent $500 million on school construction in the last 10 years, and we'll spend another $500 million in the next five to 10 years,” says Dave Doomey, associate superintendent of facilities planning in the Capistrano district.

In 1991, Capistrano had 28,395 students and was the 161st largest district in the nation. By 2001, enrollment had reached 46,756, and the district was the 95th largest in the United States.

In the past 11 years, Capistrano has built 28 schools, including two middle and three elementary schools that opened this year. That represents about half of the educational facilities in the district. The other half are aging to the point that they need to be modernized.

“We've become more sophisticated in school construction, and in building facilities that fit our instruction,” says Doomey.

Concern about crowding at some middle schools in the Capistrano district was a factor that helped persuade the school district to begin converting three of its K-5 elementary schools to K-8 facilities.

Although Orange County is already densely populated with about 3 million people, Capistrano expects its enrollment to continue to rise because of plans for extensive housing development in the southern part of the county that includes the school district. That includes the Rancho Mission Viejo area, where plans call for construction of up to 14,000 homes.

“All the last remaining large pieces of undeveloped property in Orange County are in our district,” says Doomey.

Rank District Enrollment, 2001-02 Population, 2000 # of schools, 2001-02 Enrollment, 1991-1992 # of schools, 1991-92 Rank, 1991-92 Enrollment % change, 1991 to 2001 Per-pupil spending, 2000-01 ($)
1 New York City 1,049,831 8,008,278 1,164 962,269 1,008 1 9.1 10,795
2 Los Angeles 735,058 4,444,560 663 636,964 635 2 15.4 7,384
3 Chicago 437,418 2,896,016 599 409,731 619 3 6.8 7,374
4 Miami Dade County, Fla 375,836 2,253,360 363 304,554 305 4 23.4 6,552
5 Broward County, Fla. 262,055 1,623,018 244 170,032 178 8 54.1 5,853
6 Clark County, Nev. 245,659 1,375,765 275 129,233 165 12 90.1 5,528
7 Houston 210,950 1,259,617 299 196,689 244 5 7.3 6,724
8 Philadelphia 197,083 1,517,550 263 195,735 258 6 0.7 6,947
9 Hawaii 184,546 1,211,537 279 174,747 238 7 5.6 6,558
10 Hillsborough County, Fla. 169,789 998,948 219 127,439 159 13 33.2 6,055
11 Detroit 166,675 951,267 265 169,320 244 9 -1.6 9,069
12 Dallas 163,562 986,021 226 137,746 195 10 18.7 6,571
13 Fairfax County, Va. 160,584 969,749 198 131,230 192 11 22.4 9,038
14 Palm Beach County, Fla. 160,223 1,131,184 193 110,599 125 17 44.9 6,266
15 Orange County, Fla. 157,433 896,344 184 106,619 138 20 47.7 5,721
16 San Diego 141,599 986,131 182 123,591 155 14 14.6 7,389
17 Montgomery County, Md. 136,895 873,341 193 107,399 174 19 27.5 9,543
18 Prince George's County, Md. 135,039 801,515 196 111,652 172 16 20.1 7,625
19 Duval County, Fla. 127,392 778,879 178 115,940 152 15 9.9 5,665
20 Gwinnett County, Ga. 116,339 577,882 86 68,674 60 40 69.4 6,664
21 Memphis 115,992 650,107 174 105,005 161 21 10.5 6,326
22 Pinellas County, Fla. 114,583 921,482 169 96,333 138 22 18.9 6,150
23 Baltimore County, Md. 107,212 754,292 170 89,964 148 26 19.2 8,051
24 Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. 106,312 695,454 137 77,746 112 32 36.7 7,021
25 Wake County, N.C. 101,756 627,846 120 66,931 87 44 52.0 6,496
26 Cobb County, Ga. 98,338 549,003 96 71,942 84 34 36.7 6,572
27 Baltimore City 97,817 651,154 177 110,325 177 18 -11.3 8,810
28 Milwaukee 97,762 597,055 208 93,381 156 23 4.7 9,283
29 De Kalb County, Ga. 97,501 617,943 129 76,587 102 32 27.3 7,413
30 Long Beach, Calif. 96,488 507,068 90 74,048 84 34 30.3 6,831
31 Jefferson County, Ky. 93,516 691,170 172 91,879 160 24 1.8 7,067
32 Jefferson County, Colo. 88,460 525,501 166 79,244 130 30 11.6 7,340
33 Albuquerque, N.M. 87,201 560,359 138 90,155 124 25 -3.3 5,695
34 Polk County, Fla. 81,207 483,924 142 66,841 101 45 21.5 5,882
35 Fresno, Calif. 81,058 365,035 99 74,693 86 33 8.5 7,241
36 Fort Worth, Texas 80,597 452,421 143 71,224 122 38 13.6 6,364
37 Austin, Texas 77,684 572,593 111 67,937 99 41 14.3 6,964
38 Virginia Beach, Va. 75,970 425,257 85 71,683 72 36 6.0 6,646
39 Anne Arundel County, Md. 75,081 489,656 119 66,695 113 46 12.6 7,793
40 Mesa, Ariz. 74,808 437,432 89 64,164 64 48 16.6 5,015
41 Jordan, Utah 73,494 326,233 81 67,038 69 43 9.6 4,305
42 Orleans Parish, La. 73,185 484,674 130 83,847 121 27 -12.7 5,789
43 Denver 72,361 554,636 134 60,552 114 53 19.5 7,148
44 Cleveland 72,199 480,612 125 71,640 130 37 0.8 8,735
45 Granite, Utah 72,082 516,092 98 80,330 100 29 -10.3 4,447
46 Brevard County, Fla. 71,781 476,230 109 58,883 75 56 21.9 5,570
47 Fulton County, Ga. 69,841 429,307 77 44,129 53 84 58.3 7,869
48 Washington D.C. 68,449 572,059 165 80,618 180 28 -15.1 10,852
49 Nashville-Davidson County, Tenn. 67,689 569,892 123 69,103 120 39 -2.0 6,648
50 Cypress-Fairbanks, Texas 67,562 295,150 57 43,929 40 86 53.8 6,357
51 Northside (San Antonio) 66,000 351,838 85 52,066 67 61 26.8 6,238
52 Columbus, Ohio 64,833 479,712 146 63,723 143 49 1.7 8,816
53 Guilford County, N.C. 64,546 421,048 101 25,289 40 195 155.2 6,716
54 Mobile County, Ala. 63,846 399,843 102 67,523 88 42 -5.4 5,397
55 El Paso, Texas 62,844 308,183 88 64,728 74 47 -2.9 6,197
56 Seminole County, Fla. 62,786 365,196 72 50,836 48 66 23.5 5,551
57 Volusia County, Fla. 62,599 443,343 92 50,100 63 69 24.9 5,810
58 Boston 62,141 589,141 134 60,922 117 52 2.0 12,015
59 Tucson, Ariz. 62,104 444,121 121 56,764 111 58 9.4 5,709
60 Santa Ana, Calif. 61,909 262,542 54 47,700 46 73 29.8 6,379
61 Greenville County, S.C. 61,268 393,417 94 52,001 92 62 17.8 6,006
62 Lee County, Fla. 60,718 440,888 78 44,294 64 82 37.1 6,070
63 Arlington, Texas 60,222 327,785 75 46,445 54 77 29.7 5,739
64 Davis, Utah 59,366 238,994 83 56,002 68 59 6.0 4,536
65 San Francisco 58,566 776,733 113 61,689 106 51 -5.1 6,531
66 Washoe County, Nev. 58,532 339,486 95 40,028 73 99 46.2 5,747
67 Prince William County, Va. 58,017 273,907 74 42,712 59 88 35.8 6,945
68 San Antonio 57,462 315,714 104 59,848 108 55 -4.0 6,926
69 Atlanta 56,586 416,474 97 59,905 114 54 -5.5 10,993
70 Fort Bend, Texas 56,186 235,274 58 38,812 35 105 44.8 5,932
71 San Bernardino, Calif. 54,166 224,422 65 43,016 57 87 26.0 6,698
72 Oakland, Calif. 53,545 399,573 100 51,698 90 63 3.6 7,928
73 Sacramento, Calif. 53,418 325,957 79 50,804 75 67 5.1 7,414
74 Aldine, Texas 53,332 221,223 65 42,404 39 90 25.8 6,835
75 North East (San Antonio) 53,218 316,805 67 41,093 47 95 29.5 6,356
76 Portland, Ore. 52,908 425,932 107 54,496 100 60 -2.9 8,316
77 Chesterfield County, Va. 52,726 59,903 59 45,356 79 79 16.2 6,243
78 Pasco County, Fla. 52,675 344,765 66 35,535 42 112 48.2 5,789
79 Garland, Texas 52,391 247,881 67 39,192 56 104 33.7 5,354
80 East Baton Rouge, La. 52,350 412,852 106 62,946 103 50 -16.8 6,861
81 Knox County, Tenn. 51,866 382,032 89 50,788 86 68 2.1 5,701
82 Cumberland County, N.C. 51,434 271,172 83 46,097 70 78 11.6 6,185
83 San Juan (Carmichael, Calif.) 51,383 327,123 86 47,548 87 74 8.1 7,038
84 Jefferson Parish, La. 50,766 455,466 85 58,186 84 57 -12.8 6,195
85 Elk Grove, Calif. 49,970 209,701 53 28,876 34 154 73.1 6,683
86 Garden Grove, Calif. 49,809 269,621 66 39,764 60 100 25.3 6,332
87 Anchorage, Alaska 49,767 260,283 98 44,749 82 80 11.2 7,399
88 Plano, Texas 49,091 285,682 64 32,081 39 132 53.0 6,687
89 Wichita, Kan. 48,852 316,998 92 47,222 99 75 3.5 6,533
90 Alpine, Utah 48,296 182,658 58 39,540 45 103 22.1 4,117
91 Clayton County, Ga. 48,232 236,517 49 35,596 42 111 35.5 6,314
92 Minneapolis 48,155 382,618 144 41,597 58 93 15.8 10,861
93 Seattle 47,449 564,158 129 44,423 111 81 6.8 8,082
94 Ysleta (El Paso, Texas) 46,811 193,736 59 50,036 52 70 -6.4 6,067
95 Capistrano, Calif. 46,756 296,897 49 28,395 29 161 64.7 6,129
96 Howard County, Md. 46,257 247,842 68 31,599 50 134 46.4 8,490
97 Omaha, Neb. 45,782 325,172 83 42,536 80 89 7.6 6,352
98 Forsyth County, N.C. 45,707 306,067 68 37,936 57 108 20.5 6,711
99 Caddo Parish, La. 44,859 252,161 74 51,592 76 64 -13.1 6,467
100 Buffalo, N.Y. 44,849 292,648 76 48,241 75 72 -7.0 11,985

Bigger isn't necessarily better. A large school system can take advantage of economies of scale, but it also can become bogged down in bureaucratic red tape. But bigger gets more of the limelight. A small district that experiences enrollment growth and a space crunch may be able to solve its problems by reclaiming unused space or constructing an addition. But when a district that is already immense sees the student population increase by several percentage points, that means new schools, and a lot of them. And it means bond elections seeking hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars.

Colleges with the largest enrollments
1. University of Texas at Austin 49,996
2. Ohio State University 47,952
3. Miami-Dade Community College 46,834
4. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities 45,481
5. University of Florida 45,114
6. Arizona State University 44,126
7. Texas A&M University 44,026
8. Michigan State University 43,366
9. Houston Community College System 40,929
10. University of Wisconsin, Madison 40,658
11. Pennsylvania State University 40,571
12. Purdue University 39,667
13. City College of San Francisco 39,386
14. University of Illinois at Urbana 38,465
15. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 38,103
16. New York University 37,150
17. Indiana University, Bloomington 37,076
18. Northern Virginia Community College 37,073
19. University of California, Los Angeles 36,890
20. University of Washington, Seattle 36,139