As several districts see declining enrollment, Orting School District deals with overcrowding

ORTING, Wash. — At a time when public schools across the state are losing students, the Orting School District is an anomaly.

“Orting Primary School; that’s 87% over capacity. Ptarmigan Ridge (Elementary) is about 45% over its designed capacity. And Orting High School is about 44% over its designed capacity,” lists off Superintendent Ed Hatzenbeler.

And next fall, even more students are projected to enroll. The district expects to double their enrollment by the year 2035.

At a time when other public schools are in decline, why is Orting seeing an influx of students?

“At the end of the day, so much of this boils down to housing affordability,” said University of Washington professor Dr. David Knight. “In addition to Orting, the Bethel School District, Sumner and White River — those are all districts that are experiencing enrollment growth. It has a lot to do with housing and where you’re seeing people … can actually afford to live.”

Hatzenbeler agrees.

“The average price point within our boundaries is cheaper than what you might see in a Bellevue, Seattle, Issaquah. So the affordability is there,” Hatzenbeler explains, while pointing to the increased housing developments under construction in Pierce County. Expected to bring more families, and likely, more students.

However, even with projected rises in enrollment, Hatzenbeler still expects the district to face a deficit this year upwards of $700,000.

“Even though we’ve had growth, that doesn’t keep pace with the cost,” said Hatzenbeler, but he added, “As bad as it is for us, it’s worse in a district with declining enrollment.”