Kathy Hamilton (Republican)
I think it is important to note that enrollment studies are meant to be a guide as to what is likely to occur in a given time frame. Our responsibility as a district is to monitor our enrollment as compared to the study, and track whether we are following the trend or not. Also, other factors such as birth rates, housing starts, and unemployment rates should be monitored as they have an effect on enrollment. Dr. Chung did an enrollment study for Newtown in 2010. If you compare our overall enrollment to his middle projections, we are following very closely to what he predicted. He noted in the report that enrollment is cyclical and Newtown’s trough-to-trough cycle was a period of 34 years. At the end of his report, he concludes, “…public schools in Newtown are entering into a long period of declining school enrollments. These enrollment forecasts are prepared based on the assumptions stipulated in this report.” Chung also adds “…as the future unfolds, if it reveals that the emerging reality differs significantly from the assumptions, the updating of the enrollment projections are warranted.”
Our town circumstances have changed significantly and our enrollment declined 249 students since last year. Since 2006, the enrollment has declined 716 students.
I do believe that we should consider an update to the 2010 study so that we can see the impact this will have moving forward. I have been on the record over the last several years asking for the school district to address the declining enrollment. We have an obligation to have the discussion given the results of a new report.
In the short term, we should make sure that our class sizes follow our guidelines. For the longer term, we need to have a public dialog about the facility needs of the school district. My thought is to wait until we have seated a permanent superintendent.
Michelle Ku (Democrat)
The Board of Education’s focus should always be first and foremost be on providing the best quality education we can to all students in Newtown, obviously in the most fiscally responsible way. Declining enrollment is not just about the numbers but the qualitative effects. We need to make reductions where possible, and we have, but it is a complicated issue
The issue of declining enrollment involves looking at the balance of the educational costs and benefits. I don’t think that we can look at education as a manufacturing model. Children and teachers are not widgets that can be distributed, downsized, restructured the way you might a business. It is a disservice to our community to reduce the discussion to a ratio of cost versus enrollment because the formula is more complicated than that.
Some costs are related to enrollment and others are fixed. When enrollment declines, fixed costs must be spread over fewer students. This leaves a smaller share of funds available for instruction and other student services.
We also need to recognize that declining enrollments in and of themselves are detrimental to education. In California, a study done after declines in enrollment in the early 2000s showed that schools with declining enrollments suffered, among many other things:
- Inability to recruit and retain qualified staff
- Reduction of classroom aides and other staff
- High rates of administrative turnover
- High facility maintenance costs, as many facilities are quite old
The study concluded: the net effect is a degree of district paralysis with respect to long-term planning, standards-based quality control, and overall effectiveness.
California’s study should serve as a cautionary tale that if we simply look at the numbers without considering the complexities, we will be impairing our children’s education.
So, absolutely, we must make reductions when we can. And when the time comes to look at facilities, we need to revisit the Ad Hoc Facilities Subcommittee report, the build-out report and a new demographics report. Given Danbury’s more recent increases in enrollment, the property available for development in Newtown, and the predicted eventual increase in enrollment in Newtown, we need to look at the decline in enrollment as part of a larger cycle, and when making a decision about the facilities, we need to consider the bigger picture. We should be asking ourselves several questions: What are the short-term and long-term costs and benefits? What are the qualitative effects on education? And will the cheapest solution today end up costing more in the future?
David Freedman (Republican)
I believe enrollment is cyclical - it tends to go down and rise back up over time.
Laura Main (Democrat)
I think the enrollment this year needs to be interpreted very cautiously. Dr. Reed recently stated this when he shared his report. I am not a fan of enrollment studies because they are expensive and not very accurate.
I believe the building principals have a very good handle on their enrollments and can be called upon to offer hard numbers as opposed to predictive numbers. I have found this type of reporting to be much more accurate for enrollment predictions.
At this time, I do not support closing a school. This is because I am very cautious about putting too much weight into the current enrollment dip at this time. I also know how emotional closing a school can be and frankly do not feel the community is able to handle that at this time. I would look to other ways to cut down on overhead costs besides moving students at this time. If enrollment continues to decline over the next two years, I would be open to considering ways to consolidate buildings. I do believe strongly the BOE needs to keep its promise to the families of Sandy Hook and allow that school community to remain intact.