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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."

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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