Declining school enrollment at top of Board of Finance discussion

 

Rocky the Racoon in front of Redding Elementary School, one school that could be affected by a negative education budget.

Rocky the Racoon in front of Redding Elementary School, one school that is projected to experience an enrollment decline over the next few years.

On the same day a Region 9 Board of Education Long Range Planning Steering Committee met for the first time to discuss the future of Easton and Redding schools, a Redding Board of Finance member suggested the finance commission continue to look at the possibility of declining enrollment in Redding-only schools.

Noting the towns of Ridgefield and Newtown recently hired an engineering firm to analyze the effects of declining enrolment in their own towns, finance board member Ward Mazzucco said he was wondering “what processes might be happening [in Redding] to address effects of declining enrollment.”

“I’m suggesting this is something for us to discuss with the relevant boards and public officials,” he added.

Such a statement by Mazzucco reiterates suggestions made by any number of Board of Finance and Board of Education members in town since Dr. Peter Prowda, an education enrolment specialist, projected Redding’s number of students would drop over the next few years.

Mazzucco says he thinks the town should consider hiring an outside consultant to look at enrollment data and make suggestions on the ways Redding can make responsible financial decisions.

“Every [Redding] stakeholder comes into [the process of looking at declining enrolment] with a bias and a view. A consulting organization might take a more dispassionate view of the options and make recommendations,” Mazzucco said.

His proposition, Mazzucco added, is made following a pair of discussions with Superintendent Dr. Thomas McMorran and First Selectman Julia Pemberton on the topic. He says it is important to take into account a number of factors when facing declining enrolment, like school building use reduction, and the possibility of reutilization that space for municipal offices when appropriate.

Members of the Board of Finance generally agreed with Mazzucco, and said they would continue to discuss the topic at their next meeting on Monday, August 29.

Data

After Mazzucco spoke about enrolment, Board of Education chairman Sara Sobel said the school’s most recent data shows 101 students will enroll in Kindergarten for the 2016-2017 school year, approximately 40 more students than 2015-2016.

[Editor’s Note: This story originally stated the 101 students entering the Kindergarten for 2016-2017 represented an equal number to those students entering in 2015-2016. That is incorrect.]

There are expected to be nine new first grade students enrolled for 2016-2017, Sobel added, which falls in line with previous years’ increases.

“If you look past the past five years, [eight new students enroll in first grade on average] with a high number of 14 new students, and a low of 6 new students,” Sobel said. “There is some variability. We find that a lot of students who have gone to a private nursery or pre-K, if there is a Kindergarden they might be keeping them there.”

Fund balance

Mazzucco also made a second suggestion at Monday’s meeting: That the town should “achieve gradually, and then maintain, a minimum undesignated general fund balance of approximately two months’ worth of the previous year’s audited projected operating expenditures.”

The town is currently expected to maintain a fund-balance of 6% of the previous year’s audited operating expenses. A two-month requirement would have the town add approximately $1 million to its fund balance.

The two-month requirement is supported generally by the Government Finance Officers Association, and would not recommend a minimum requirement — but a preferred amount of savings.

“This preserves the current minimum but gives us the goal, however long it takes us to meet it, of two months of the projected budget,” Mazzucco said.

Other members of the board generally agreed with Mazzucco’s suggestion. He will bring a formal motion to the board’s next meeting in August.

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