The number of students enrolled in Ashland schools has increased for the first time in 11 years, district officials announced this week.

The number of students enrolled in Ashland schools has increased for the first time in 11 years, district officials announced this week.

As of Monday, the district had 83 more students enrolled than last year — and 114 more than analysts had predicted.

Superintendent Juli Di Chiro called the report "very good news" for the district, which has struggled with the financial fallout of declining enrollment for the past decade.

"We're very happy to see that our numbers are where they are," she told the School Board on Monday. "It's looking good on all fronts."

As of Monday, 2,867 students were enrolled in the district — 3 percent more than last year.

Every grade level has more students this year than last year, said Jill Turner, the district's business manager.

District officials are especially pleased that enrollment in kindergarten rose 51 percent this year to 177 students, from 117 students last year.

"It's a big difference," Di Chiro said. "We knew that (last year) was the lowest we had ever been in kindergarten and we were hoping that was just one of those anomalies, and that looks to be the case."

A sharp decline in enrollment forced the district to close Briscoe Elementary School in 2003 and Lincoln Elementary School in 2005.

The enrollment increase has resulted in more crowded classrooms — and district officials don't plan to hire more teachers this year to compensate, Di Chiro said.

"For right now the classrooms are more crowded and they'll be more crowded through this year," she said. "Teachers are going to have to work with the class sizes they have, and I know they're high."

Class sizes were already scheduled to increase significantly this year, as a result of last spring's budget cuts. The district's $22 million budget for this school year is 14.8 percent lower than last year's.

Although district officials aren't exactly sure why the enrollment is up, they speculate that the recession may have prompted people to stay in town instead of trying to seek opportunities elsewhere.

"I think it's probably because there's nowhere else to go to," Di Chiro said.

The increase in enrollment means that the district will receive more state funding this year, although it's unclear how much, Di Chiro said.

"Even if we do get some more money, we have to put into the fund balance," she said Thursday.

The district receives roughly $6,000 per student each year, but that figure can vary based on factors such as whether the student is a member of a minority group or in special education, the superintendent said.

The enrollment numbers for this year are "still a little bit soft," and could change slightly as the year wears on, she said.

Di Chiro plans to present a more detailed enrollment report to the School Board at its Oct. 12 meeting, she said.

Overall the picture for the district is much brighter than in years past, Di Chiro said.

"We think this is a very positive sign for our district and we're happy to see it," she said. "It's much better than being on the other end."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.