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."