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SAN TAN VALLEY – New houses are springing up all around it, but Florence Unified School District isn’t planning any new schools for the next 10 years.

This is according to its Fiscal Year 2022 Capital Plan to be submitted to the state School Facilities Board. The Florence school board approved the plan at its Oct. 12 meeting. The district’s demographic study projects nearly 17,600 new households and more than 21,000 actual houses in the next 10 years.

But barely more than half of school-age students -- 50.4% -- residing in the district attend FUSD. In other words, nearly 9,000 children within the boundaries are attending charter schools, home schools or other schools.

“This is the lowest capture rate recorded since 2000/01 and it represents the sixth consecutive year of decline,” the plan says.

Total enrollment is expected to increase by about 5% next year, but slow to about 2% per year for the latter half of the decade. In all, the district expects to grow by about 2,800 students over the next 10 years, and plans to teach them in existing schools.

FUSD’s high schools have all recently experienced moderate enrollment increases. Only Poston Butte is expected to experience an enrollment decline by the middle of the decade. By 2031, Florence is expected to be district’s largest high school with nearly 1,800 students, followed by Poston Butte with nearly 1,400 and San Tan Foothills with roughly 900.

Poston Butte, which has neared capacity with as many as 1,800 students in recent years, is currently down to 1,300.

Among the K-8 attendance areas, the largest enrollment increases are expected in Anthem, Magma Ranch and San Tan Heights. Enrollment in Florence has been flat, but is expected to increase slightly, by perhaps 125, in the coming years, according to FUSD’s Capital Plan.

The other four K-8 schools have experienced moderate enrollment losses, which are expected to continue during the first half of the decade.

The district is expected to see an increase in overall population of about 50,300 people by 2030 for a total of about 138,500. The district currently contains approximately 29,600 households, up 1,305 housing units from last year. Housing additions are expected to increase for the next two years, decrease slightly in 2023 and 2024, then stabilize to about 2,100 new units per year for the remainder of the decade.

Other business

Stacy Gramazio, representing the Florence Copper Community Foundation, presented the Friends of Florence Kids First Foundation with a $2,000 grant for STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math). She congratulated the district for establishing a foundation that will benefit students for many years to come.

“… we look forward to many partnerships in the future,” Gramazio said. “Congratulations on everything you’re doing at FUSD.”

Board members congratulated staff and volunteers for a successful “Pitmaster Challenge” pro barbecue event Oct. 1 and 2 in downtown Florence, which raised more than $51,000 for the foundation.

Vice President Steve Johnson also expressed thanks to Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Executive Director and fellow school board member Roger Biede. “I think without Roger being there from sunrise to sundown, it wouldn’t have been the same event.”

Superintendent Chris Knutsen urged seniors to apply for the scholarships which the foundation will be offering.

Board President Denise Guenther welcomed back students and staff from fall break. She said the district’s Community Education department will hold “Hoot Night” Oct. 28 at Walker Butte School, and FUSD will also participate in downtown Florence’s Halloween celebration on Oct. 31.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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