School Enrollment Projected to Decrease by 21- to 31-Percent in a Decade

Demographer estimates that public school enrollment will decrease by about 26-percent or 1,406 students over the next decade.

School enrollment can be expected to decrease by about 21- to 31-percent in the next decade depending on what projection approach is used, a consultant told the Board of Education Tuesday night at the Municipal Center.

Hyung C. Chung, a demography consultant and University of Bridgeport professor emeritus hired to study the district's enrollment trends, presented findings that showed that the town's public schools are entering a long period of declining school enrollment given assumptions about the economy, birth rates, home sales, housing availability and percent of students attending nonpublic schools.

Chung said the decline by 2019 might translate to between 1,147 and 1,665 fewer students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Using a middle projection, that would mean 1,406 fewer students or a decrease of 26 percent from last year's public school enrollment, according to Chung's report.

The three projections presented -- high, middle and low -- were based on past trends being carried into the future. A low projection assumed that the same trends experienced during the past three years will be carried forward while a middle projection assumed five years and high projection assumed 10 years.

Chung said that he would recommend updating the study on an annual basis to make sure the assumptions in the study, such as the economy, home sales and the number of families sending their children to nonpublic schools, do not change unexpectedly. The cost to update the study would be $9,200, he said.

Board member Lillian Bittman said the district should consider regularly updating the study given factors, such as the upcoming completion of the high school addition. The number of students enrolled in nonpublic schools, which include private as well as charter and magnet schools, appeared to have increased substantially starting in 2005. That trend would have had an affect on the projection, and may be tied to conditions at the high school.

"It started at the same time there were problems at the high school," she said. "To me, I find that striking…We need to understand what's going to happen when the high school is done."

Bittman said she anecdotally heard that many parents decided to take their children out of high school and send them elsewhere  when overcrowding issues at the high school surfaced. With the completion of the expansion, more families may choose to return their children to the high school.

"My concern is we stay on top of the comebacks," she said.

In general, the declining enrollment is due to decreases in the birth rate, fewer new housing units and decrease in home sales, Chung said. Additionally, people are living longer and the aging population of baby boomers is steadily increasing.

Bittman said many people move in and out of the area and she has heard from many who don't intend to retire in Newtown because of the high costs, and so the population make-up may change due to those factors.

"We have a very transient population," she said. "You are going to have a situation where our larger four-bed colonial is going on the market in the future and so I want to make sure we stay on top of that as a school district."

Deborra Zukowski August 18, 2010 at 06:49 PM
Can someone out there help connect the following dots: 1) We have Chung study that suggests a dramatic decrease in school population based on the trends from the last few years 2) We had a presentation to the Selectmen about affordable housing that said over 1400 (new ??) dwellings would be needed to meet the state's 10% affordable housing goal. Also, we see that Brookfield is potentially adding an an affordable housing incentive zone for supporting such housing (today's News-Times, pg A6, suggests that developers may have the upper hand, re: 'helping' towns meet the state's affordable goal).
Alex Tytler August 18, 2010 at 10:02 PM
Lets forget about "affordable housing", as just another wealth redistribution scheme. The BOE has been dishonest with the town in ramming through the high scholl addition at vast expense in the face of this kind of study, of which there are a number. Their only sollution to any education problem is lower teacher student ratio's. It is the only profession in the world where productivity actually goes down, not up. In this communication revolution there has to be a better way, like taking the best algebra one teacher in the country and broadcasting his lecture to everybody, instead of getting it from the subpar local algebra teacher. Or design the lecures for those verbally oriented and those mathematically oriented and have the algebra lecture designed for those two types of thinkers... or take the top 100 in the country and let students pick based on how well they get it, but that would be better and cost less so it will never happen.
Tom Bittman August 18, 2010 at 10:38 PM
Right, those Newtowners on the BOE actually know exactly how many students will attend Newtown schools over the next ten years, and they've been holding back on us! Maybe not. I have zero faith in these consultants. We should compare past projections with actuals, and new projections. I'll bet they aren't matching up at all. There are too many variables in determining student projections. This is 20% fact-based and 80% unknown. I hope we don't spend too much on these. Maybe we should hold back a part of their fee and pay in the future based on accuracy! The high school expansion was NOT just about future growth (although consultants were certainly projecting future growth), and not just about class size. The place was a zoo - anyone who took the time to walk through the school would see how overcrowded it was. The expansion was needed years ago - repeat, YEARS AGO - and our mistake was waiting so long. In the end, it cost is more (including "temporary" portables), it negatively impacted students for years in terms of education program - we let students down. Not just class size - kids weren't able to attend classes that would have helped them succeed in their careers. The way I see it, the worst case is we reconfigure our schools sometime in the next 5-10 years to mothball the middle school money pit. Reed and the HS are solid.
Robert Hennessey August 19, 2010 at 01:09 AM
Exactly who hires the consultant(s)? And, what are they being paid to do? Every time a consultant is hired by this town, whether it be the municpal or education side, the consultant discovers( underscores) exactly what the majority representation of that given board which hired the consultant wanted. Harrel-Micholowski(spelling?) made a fortune on our tax dollars telling town government what they wanted to hear. School enrollment forecasts had been the responsibility of the district's business manager and they were off (on the LOW side, as the municipal leaders had desired/predicted) constantly, hence school overcrowding. Now that our national/local economy is in the toilet and Newtown has built the addition, watch how many families who'd been sending their children to private schools suddenly discover NHS is a value given the tax dollars being paid out. Tom B. is 100% correct re; the expense of mold-ridden, previously used portables our kids were subjected to, then the brand new portables that were delivered, what a waste of time and money. One has to hope with Mr. Hart as BOE chair, the mentality will be more pragmatic than partisan.
Kevin Pister August 19, 2010 at 06:59 AM
Why have an expensive addition added onto the High School, if the enrollment will decrease? This just doesn't make sense.
pat Llodra August 19, 2010 at 11:11 AM
Tom. One part of your commentary deserves a response from me. Newtown High School was not a "zoo" ...overcrowded yes, especially in the halls and the cafeteria, and the need for additional classrooms made scheduling very difficult. Despite these challenges students and teachers performed well. It disparages the efforts of everyone involved during those challenges to insinuate that "zoo"-like conditions prevailed, then or now. Remember, I was there from November through June 2005. Every day...all day.
Po Murray August 19, 2010 at 12:35 PM
The high school without the addition only accommodates 1600 students. We had more than 1700 last year. The school is currently overcrowded. This addition was long overdue therefore the school was placed on warning status from NEASC. We spent thousands of dollars for MULTIPLE enrollment projections (Prowda, Bothwell, including Dr. Chung’s Planemetrics report, etc…) and each and every enrollment projection supported the need for the HS addition to address the current overcrowding and the future overcrowding. The elected town leaders engaged in YEARS of debate/discussion (ad nauseum) regarding the enrollment projections (please review the meeting minutes). Finally, the majority did not disagree on the need. Who could have predicted the Great Recession? Who could have predicted that the first HS addition would be completely inadequate in less than a decade? The high school is our community center. It is not only for the students. We will all benefit from the addition one way or another. When the economy recovers (and it will), the HS overcrowding will not be an issue for the future home buyers or home sellers. Now, we must work on adding the necessary HS classes so that we can be taken off the NEASC warning list so that we can work toward restoring the blue ribbon status for our schools.
Tom Bittman August 19, 2010 at 12:37 PM
Pat, sorry about that, not what I wanted to imply. I have no complaints about the staff. Some people don't yet understand how overcrowded the school was, and the effect on students and staff. I saw it, and heard about it from my daughter. This was not a short-term bubble - this was a long-term problem that started years ago, and even if the lowest new projections are correct, the HS population won't see a decline for a long time. Declines start in the lower grades.
Hoa Nguyen August 19, 2010 at 12:51 PM
Just to add to the conversation, Chung's report projects that during the first five years, the high school population will stay relatively the same: 1727 (2009); 1701 (2010); 1717 (2011); 1730 (2012); 1691 (2013); and 1724 (2014), but five years after that, it will decline by 14-percent, or 244 fewer students as compared to 2009. Of course, these are all just projections.
Po Murray August 19, 2010 at 01:31 PM
I think Mr. Bothwell said any projection beyond a few years is in the land of conjecture.
John B August 19, 2010 at 02:45 PM
Outlaying some really wild projections for the next ten years, stirring up the constituents, then offering to update these projections every year for $10k is quite a racket. I want his job.
Sue Conrod August 19, 2010 at 03:04 PM
The children that were moved to private education will not be back, they entered that system and will go through until completion. That's a lost cause. But if the projections actually come to fruition, then the BOE can consider other options. Such as closing down the middle school and having that gutted and re-constructed in the interim. When we moved back into Newtown I was appalled by the delapidated and aged structure that I was paying taxes to have my child go to school in, and there have been no major changes to that building since then. The attitude is that it is good enough, just like Hawley school is good enough.
Will Jones August 19, 2010 at 06:22 PM
Mr. Steinkraus, I appreciate your frequent calls for cost savings in local government. Many of them seem to be directed at the town's schools, so I guess that you do not have children in the system, though that is conjecture. While I do agree that school costs in most districts can be trimmed, please keep in mind that one of the reasons that people move to Newtown is for its schools. Thus, if you are a property owner, the value of your home/investment is protected and/or grown, at least in part, by the quality schools that cause people to want to move here. Also, I appreciate your interesting idea about how to save money in schools by having the some of the best teachers from around the country broadcast their lessons. More of this kind of thinking should be encouraged. However, speaking as an educator, this particular idea misses the larger goals of education. When students study chemistry or physics with me, they're not just learning subjects. I am trying to teach them respect, responsibility, independence of thought, motivation, and character. I want excess fat trimmed from the town budget (including schools) just as much as the next person. But while a TV program or web video has some very small chance of teaching a very small number of highly motivated kids about algebra or chemistry, it has zero chance of influencing a kid's life. I'll pay for good teachers.


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