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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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|
|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|
|10||Hillsborough County, Fla.||169,789||998,948||219||127,439||159||13||33.2||6,055|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|34||Polk County, Fla.||81,207||483,924||142||66,841||101||45||21.5||5,882|
|36||Fort Worth, Texas||80,597||452,421||143||71,224||122||38||13.6||6,364|
|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|
|42||Orleans Parish, La.||73,185||484,674||130||83,847||121||27||-12.7||5,789|
|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|
|49||Nashville-Davidson County, Tenn.||67,689||569,892||123||69,103||120||39||-2.0||6,648|
|51||Northside (San Antonio)||66,000||351,838||85||52,066||67||61||26.8||6,238|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|75||North East (San Antonio)||53,218||316,805||67||41,093||47||95||29.5||6,356|
|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|
|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|
|91||Clayton County, Ga.||48,232||236,517||49||35,596||42||111||35.5||6,314|
|94||Ysleta (El Paso, Texas)||46,811||193,736||59||50,036||52||70||-6.4||6,067|
|96||Howard County, Md.||46,257||247,842||68||31,599||50||134||46.4||8,490|
|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|
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.
|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|