Education Week - November 29, 2017 - S6
'It required the
to be very
all learned to
even if they
Population and Survey Analysts
Heritage Association of Frisco
PHOTO GALLERY: Take
a historical trip through
Frisco, Texas, as it grew
from a small town to
thriving exurb of Dallas.
NATIONAL DATA: Which
large school districts
have grown the most in
the last three decades?
something around you,'" Tom Hernandez, the Plainfield
How did school districts manage that growth while still
keeping on top of everything else they had to do? Smart
planning, officials said.
Large- and medium-sized districts like Montgomery
County, Md.; Loudoun County, Va.; and Volusia County,
Fla., have entire departments that oversee school
planning and construction. Some have certified planners,
demographers, and Geographic Information Systems
specialists to help estimate future student enrollment,
pinpoint areas most likely to be affected by demographic
change, and propose sites for new schools or expansion.
Smaller districts like Frisco have to hire outside planners
to help them through the process.
Reedy identified three distinct growth periods in the
Frisco school district: slow growth of about 1 to 3 percent a
year from when he arrived in 1976 to 1992; gradual growth
of 4 to 10 percent from 1992 to 1997; and explosive growth
above 10 percent from 1997 through today.
Frisco was not exactly blindsided by the growth. A former
demographer had predicted that the district's enrollment
would swell and school officials had already purchased
land and planned new buildings for new students. And
long before the growth crept up on them the town had
convened a committee to create a vision for the future
Frisco school district that included the size of the schools
and feeder patterns.
The city's proximity to Dallas and its high-quality
schools had always been a draw, but the expansion of
the Dallas North Tollway into Frisco made it easier for
residents to commute to and from work, and the addition
of office parks in Frisco further cut commuting time.
But the pace surprised officials. By the mid-1990s,
engineers were building roads and putting down sewer
lines where cattle once roamed. Farms were being chopped
up into subdivisions. And developers were filing master
plans with the city of Frisco, along with the three other
municipalities that make up the Frisco school district-
McKinney, Plano, and Little Elm-signaling their intention
to build homes.
School planners say having a good relationship with
municipal officials is essential to keeping track of the
number and types of residential units that developers
plan to build. This knowledge helps districts estimate the
number of students that are likely to live in the housing
units over time, how many school buildings might be
necessary to educate them, and where in the municipality
schools may need to be added or expanded.
In addition, home prices also can give districts a clue
about how many students to expect: Homes in the lower
price range are more likely to attract families with younger
children than homes in the mid-price range, said Saralee
Morrissey, the planning director for the Volusia County
school district in Daytona Beach, Fla.
In places like Florida, planners also have to factor in
charter schools and other school choice options. Districts
are not always aware of when a charter school may open or
close, and that's something many of them did not have to
Education Week * November 29, 2017
consider 25 years ago, Morrissey said.
When Frisco hired Population and Survey Analysts, a
demography and planning firm based in College Station,
Texas, property was changing hands at such a rapid
clip that employees literally had to assess every tract
to ascertain ownership and most recent sales, said Kris
Pool, the chief data analyst at the firm, who has worked
with the school district since 1999.
They met with city officials and developers to get
more details on their plans. But they didn't just take the
developers' word. They also looked at whether the land was
ready for development: Did the area already have roads,
sewer lines, and other infrastructure?
They coded the location of current district students and
examined enrollment trends in the existing subdivisions,
Pool said. They also looked at birth rates and adjusted
them five years into the future to determine enrollment
projections for kindergarten students.
Planners also generally take into account those who
move into the area, housing turnover, along with the
types of businesses that are located in and near the school
"It's not [an exact science]," Pool said. "But there is a lot
of science that goes into it."
The 1999 report from PASA projected that Frisco's
enrollment would nearly triple to 15,955 by 2004. Another
report in 2001 forecast the need for 56 schools in 10 years.
Wilkinson said the district used the projections to
plan how many schools to build, how the buildings
would be rolled out, and staffing, and as the basis for
bond programs-to finance construction. The annual
revisions were used to set attendance zones, which Frisco
reconfigured annually in the high growth years, often
because of space issues in existing buildings.
The core district team also worked in concert with the
deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction and
human resources-more students meant more buildings,
which translated into a need for additional teachers and
staff. Curriculum staff also provided input on the types of
learning spaces students needed.
Frisco also found an ally in City Manager George Purefoy,
one of the engineers of Frisco's economic boom. District
officials say he was instrumental in keeping them apprised
of development plans and ensuring that developers kept
the district and the impact on schools in mind as they
proposed new projects.
Since 1993, Frisco residents have approved more than
$2 billion in bonds to pay for new buildings, land
purchases, and expansion and renovations, though the
approval rates for those measures have dropped over time.
In the early years, it was relatively easy to get residents on
board to approve spending for new lots and buildings.
"When you are growing by 15 to 20 percent and you are
adding thousands of students per year, it's easy for the
community to say, 'Wow, they need another school-or 15
more schools-because of the level of growth,' " said Todd
Fouche, the deputy superintendent for business services,
who replaced Wilkinson.
Additionally, because assessed property values were