Utah's school enrollment plateaued this year, but a U.S. Department of Education report released Tuesday shows a boom is just ahead.

Enrollment is expected to jump by 11.2 percent in the next 10 years, or from 489,000 to 544,000 students, marking the fifth highest percentage increase in the nation and sixth in actual numbers, the report states.Such "Baby Boom Echoes" appear in a record national fall enrollment of 52.7 million - plus a record 14.6 million in higher education - and will reverberate through 2008, President Bill Clinton said in a Maryland ceremony.

The ceremony was broadcast to 84 communities in 37 states, including Salt Lake's Horizonte Instruction and Training Center, on National School Modernization Day.

Clinton renewed his call to Congress to spend $5 billion to outfit public schools for increased enrollments, now up 500,000 from last fall. Proposals include $22 billion to repair and upgrade 5,000 schools and $12.4 billion over seven years to hire 100,000 teachers to reduce class size. Some 2.2 million new teachers will be needed by 2008 to handle growth.

"If we can do that, we're going to be very proud of how our (students) turn out," said Clinton, flanked by U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley. "Children deserve schools that are as modern as the world in which they live."

Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, praised the president's education improvement plans but said the devil will be in the details, particularly how Utah will benefit.

His comments came at a Salt Lake school modernization panel discussion, which included architects and school officials, following the broadcast.

Enrollment numbers gave way to local talks on upgrading school facilities, as 14 million students nationwide attend schools needing extensive repair, a recent General Accounting Office report stated.

Some Utah schools need updating, but generally are well-maintained.

"We don't have schools falling apart," said Deputy State Superintendent Laurie Chivers. "We believe our schools are safe. (But) we believe some changes need to be made."

Utah has been playing facilities catch-up since an enrollment boom in the 1980s, which at times brought some 17,000 new students to public schools and resulted in scores of portable classrooms.

While State Office of Education 1998 enrollment and projections won't be available until next month, enrollment is not expected to mimic the massive '80s influx, Chivers said.

Local districts are working to update facilities. Salt Lake City School District is replacing 20 schools and retrofitting 17 others and adding air-conditioning to all schools, and quickly, if voters approve an unspecified bond next May.

"The building should be as much of a learning tool as the concepts taught in the building" and flexible to curriculum needs, said Steve Crane of Valentiner Crane Brunjes Onyon Architects in Salt Lake City.

Some school districts repeat or slightly modify school plans, often in the interest of time, but that may not be the best choice, said Ross Wentworth, vice president of Naylor Wentworth architectural firm.

Davis School District is modifying its 25-year-old building plan to modernize upcoming elementary schools in West Point, Syracuse and Kaysville, perhaps by centralizing media centers, creating classroom clusters and adding more windows. It also is adding school technology specialists to all schools, partly to train teachers to use technology in lessons.

Horizonte was held up as a school modernization model for such reasons. Also, its classrooms have no teacher's desks to foster a sense of student ownership and teamwork, said principal James Andersen, emphasizing good teachers are key to education and only are supplemented by facilities.

Technology initiatives also have taken hold statewide. The student-to-computer ratio of Utah schools is 6-1. All middle schools, 98 percent of elementary schools and 97 percent of high schools have Internet access, said Gary Carlston, the governor's education deputy.


Additional Information

Public school Enrollment increases

Increase by number of students*

Rank State 1998 2008 Additional Students

1. California 5,961,000 6,854,000 893,000

2. Texas 3,967,000 4,343,000 376,000

3. Georgia 1,395,000 1,505,000 110,000

4. Arizona 828,000 928,000 100,000

5. Virginia 1,128,000 1,190,000 62,000

6. Utah 489,000 544,000 55,000

Increase by percent of students*

Percent increase

Rank State 1998-2008

1. California 15.0%

2. Hawaii 13.2%

3. Arizona 12.1%

4. New Mexico 12.0%

5. Utah 11.2%

* Projected