In his fourth year as assistant superintendent of one of the fastest growing school districts in Oregon, Wade Smith has had to level a shrinking budget with an exploding student population.

Along with other school officials, Smith headed up efforts to adapt to an unexpected influx of students in every Hermiston school this fall and prepare the district for a future full of uncertainties.

Smith said Wednesday’s totals revealed a population of a little more than 250 more students than the 2009-10 school year.

“We’ve seen double the growth we anticipated,” Smith said, adding that the pattern has been an additional 100 students per year for the past five.

Almost two weeks into this year, the enrollment counts were a full 300 students above year-end counts last spring.

In 2005, September enrollment in the Hermiston School District was approximately 4,670 students, compared to the 5,220 reported Wednesday.

Smith said this five-year increase of 550 students is still a great sign. 

“We’re still delighted to be able to report to parents that we maintain smaller class sizes,” Smith said.

He also said the new schools in Hermiston should take future increases just fine under the proposed five years of breathing room planners forecast when approving building plans; the high school’s capacity does worry him a bit, however.

Both the new West Park and Sunset Elementary buildings will see an increased capacity of 100 students, and the new Armand Larive will gain room for 375 chairs.

Smith said state funding — about $6,000 per student — is based on estimates which run on a six-month delay. This means the district began the year with supplies, faculty and other resources needing a boost.

After the school reports updated numbers to the state around winter break, Smith said, the district should receive around $600,000 in additional funds.

A new district boundary committee has also been working to find solutions for growing populations.

The Hermiston School Board charged the 10-person committee with multiple objectives and topics of focus, such as transportation efficiencies, neighborhood school attendance and capacity limitations.

An eight-month review process will conclude with a presentation to the community at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday Oct. 5 in the high school.

Smith also said more students are riding busses this year because of altered driving habits of parents. He speculated that the current economic depression is causing this effect in area residents.

Cindy Nicholson, vice president of Mid Columbia Bus Company, said her business was prepared for the jump in numbers.

“It was kind of unexpected,” Nicholson said. “We had to alter some routes and do some re-routing, but we’ve been keeping up with it.”

She added that in the last year, Mid Columbia has expanded their fleet and added a route — two adjustments paying dividends this fall.

Without going in to contract details, Nicholson also said her company is in the process of implementing an updated system of drivers counting students on busses.

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