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August 17, 2003, Sunday, BC cycle

Fast-growing Frisco deals with ‘kindergarten boom’

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 733 words

DATELINE: FRISCO, Texas

Cindi Wright jokes that the shopping mall in this one-time farming community – now one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities – resembles a stroller convention.

“It has more strollers per capita than any other mall,” said Wright, a mother of three young children.

Babies don’t stay little for long, though, as educators in this city 25 miles north of Dallas have figured out.

The Frisco school district graduated fewer than 400 high school seniors in May, but it expects a crush of about 1,600 kindergartners when the new school year starts Monday.

Low interest rates and plenty of available housing have fueled an influx of young families, producing a kindergarten boom unmatched in Texas, demographers say.

“I don’t know what it is,” said Wright, 33. “It just seems like everybody’s our age and everybody’s having kids.”

Cotton gins and grain elevators once characterized Frisco, whose name derived from the Saint Louis and San Francisco Railway. But it’s become a burgeoning suburb of SUVs, soccer moms and even professional sports teams, including the Frisco Roughriders, the Texas Rangers’ Double-A affiliate.

Since 1990, the population has increased tenfold – from 6,000 to an estimated 60,000.

“This is a natural progression of development from Dallas that began probably back in the 1950s,” said Jim Gandy, president of the Frisco Economic Development Corp.

As Dallas sprawled northward, closer-in suburbs such as Plano – where the estimated population of 238,000 has nearly doubled since 1990 – started running out of room.

Frisco, on the other hand, remains about 70 percent undeveloped.

“What you’re seeing is what you see in many suburban areas,” said Steve Murdock, a Texas A&M University demographer. “It is generally in the most rapidly growing new suburbs that you will see the youngest populations.”

But while Frisco’s growth is expected, other demographers point to a new phenomenon: Low interest rates have allowed more parents with young children to buy homes.

Ordinarily, they say, it takes longer for parents to afford homes in relatively affluent school districts, meaning it’s usually in the higher grades where the districts deals with crowded classrooms.

Last school year, Frisco’s 1,308 kindergartners represented 11.7 percent of the district’s total enrollment of 11,145. That was the highest percentage of kindergarten students of any district in Texas with more than 4,000 students, according to Population and Survey Analysts, a College Station-based demographic company that works with Frisco schools and other districts statewide.

Second on the list was McKinney – a district that borders Frisco – where 1,441 kindergartners comprised 9.4 percent of 15,279 total students.

Until the mid-1990s, Frisco had three elementary schools. On Monday, it’ll open numbers 13 and 14 – along with a second high school. With an enrollment that has grown 600 percent in the past decade, Frisco schools have won approval for nearly $900 million of construction debt since 1998.

The last bond issue – $478 million to build 22 new schools, including 18 elementary schools – passed in March with support from 89 percent of voters.

“It’s certainly challenging, but because of the support of the parents and the school board, we’re able to stay ahead of the curve,” Assistant Superintendent Richard Wilkinson said.

Wright and her family moved to Frisco four years ago when her husband, John, a mortgage company manager, was transferred to the Dallas area from New Mexico.

On Monday, her oldest child, Dawson, 7, will attend a new school – a brand new school – for the second time in three years as attendance boundaries change to accommodate growth. His sister, Delaney, 5, will join him at Boals Elementary.

“When I first drove out here, it was an empty field,” said Anna Koenig, Boals Elementary principal.

Less than two years later, the red-brick school stands in the shadow of bulldozers, orange construction fences and large, two-story homes popping up in almost every direction. Fountains and golf-course-green lawns dot the landscape.

Koenig is helping open a new school for the third time in four years.

“This has probably been the easiest year,” she said. “The district has it down to a science.”

On the Net:

Frisco School District: http://www.friscoisd.org

Frisco Economic Development Corp.: http://www.friscoedc.com

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