Enrollment projections show decline in students in local schools

Enrollment projections for Redding public schools, conducted by education consultant Peter Prowda, show a continuing decline in student enrollment for the next 10 years. The decline will be taken into consideration when the Redding Board of Education plans its budget for 2013-14, said Jess Gaspar, board chairman.

The total enrollment for both Redding Elementary School and John Read Middle School for 2012 is 1,132 students. That number is expected to decline to 1,070 for the next school year, 2013-14.

Using the cohort survival method, a standard method for enrollment projections, Mr. Prowda said that between 2002 and 2012 there was a net loss of 133 students, or 10.5%.

“Statewide in that period, I have projected that grade K-8 public school enrollment will have decreased by 6.7%. Redding’s decline of 2.1% between 2001 and 2011 was in the middle of PK-8 enrollment growth in similar districts in the region,” said Mr. Prowda.

In 2008, total enrollment was 1,301 students, which was a slight increase from the previous year, but the following year’s enrollment steadily declined and the decline is projected to continue, he said.

“I expect enrollment to fall below 1,000 students [the total for the two schools] in 2015, below 900 students in 2017 and below 800 students in 2018,” said Mr. Prowda. “At the projection’s end [in 2022], I believe that enrollment will be 765 students.”

“For the grades above kindergarten, I compute grade-to-grade growth rates for 10 years,” he said in the report. “In the standard model, kindergarten enrollment is compared to births five years prior, and some average of the observed growth or decline is used to project future kindergarten enrollment.”

The primary reason for the elementary enrollment change is the number of births and yield from the birth cohort, he said.

“Births ranged from a low of 48 in 2009 to a high of 111 in 1987 and again in 1998,” said Mr. Prowda.

“You do not have to look much further than the pattern of births to understand the decline. In 2003-07 there were 79 births annually. Those children are now in grades K-4. In the 2008-12 period, there will be 53 births annually; in the 2013 to 2017 period, I estimate there will be 61 births annually,” he said.

If enrollment falls to 765 students, it will be the lowest K-8 enrollment recorded since Redding became a K-8 district in 1965, he said.

Mr. Prowda said the cohort-survival method needs only births and a few years of recent enrollment data to generate a projection.

“Mathematically, nothing else matters,” he said.

“These projections are based upon several key assumptions revolving around the notion that the recent past is a good predictor of the near future,” he said.

The projection assumes that current school policies will continue, the population growth factors will not change, 15% of parents will start their children in kindergarten at age 6 and no new housing units are constructed annually, said Mr. Prowda.

“This is a difficult time to predict future enrollment. A high but improving unemployment rate, economic doldrums and tight mortgage market all make conditions today different than several years ago,” he said. “We cannot know today how long these conditions will remain and when they might end. The cohort survival method relies on observed data from the recent past. The method is unresponsive to cyclical change. However, I know of no alternative data-based model that is responsive and produces grade-level data.”

At Redding Elementary School there are 517 students enrolled in kindergarten through fourth grade as of October 2012. This is a 5.0% decrease from 2002, when enrollment was 644 students.

From 2002 to 2004 there was an increase in enrollment from 644 to 700 students, but since 2004, enrollment has been steadily decreasing, said Mr. Prowda.

“I project that next year’s enrollment at the school will be 25 to 30 students less than this year’s,” he said. “I anticipate enrollment [to] fall below 500 students in 2013 and below 400 students in 2015. I expect a low enrollment of about 350 students in 2018. By 2022, I expect the school’s enrollment to rebound to about 410 students.”

John Read Middle School is also projected to see a decline in students.

Currently there are 553 students enrolled at the middle school. This is a decrease from 2002. In the last 10 years there has been an overall decrease in enrollment by 25 students, or 4.3%.

“I believe that next year’s enrollment at John Read Middle School will be 30 to 35 students less than this year’s as the large eighth grade class exits and this year’s relatively small fourth grade class enters,” said Mr. Prowda.

In 2015, Mr. Prowda projects that enrollment will fall below 500 students and below 400 students in 2018.

“By 2022, I anticipate that the school’s enrollment will be close to 290 students,” he said. That is 260 students below the current enrollment, or a decline of about 47%.

“Over the 10-year projections period, enrollment at John Read Middle School is expected to average about 405 students. This is below the average of 565 students observed in grades six through eight over the past 10 years,” said Mr. Prowda.

Stephanie Pierson Ugol, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Easton, Redding and Region 9 school districts, said it is premature to say how enrollment will affect the budget for the 2013-14 school year.

The Redding Board of Education is in the beginning stages of budget planning and the board does consider enrollment in budget planning, but there isn’t a direct “A to B” correlation between the two, said Ms. Pierson Ugol.

“We try and look at the whole picture,” she said. “We factor that [enrollment] information into everything we consider for the budget. It does play a role in planning,” she said, and it impacts more than just the number of sections and teachers at each school.

Mr. Gaspar said in past years when enrollment has dropped, the board has been “judiciously reducing the staff size.”

“Over the next few years, as enrollment continues to fall, I would expect this trend to continue. The manner in which staffing is deployed next year and over the next few years has been and will continue to be a topic of intensive discussion within the administration and the board,” said Mr. Gaspar.

Though where to reduce staff size is difficult, he added.

“How precisely this works out can be complicated due to variations in grade sizes, staff certifications, differences between core (math, Integrated Language Arts, etc.) and essential (technology, music, art, etc.) instructional needs and, potentially, given new legislation [state Education Reform Bill] with [required] performance evaluations,” he said. “However, absent a surprise increase in enrollments, as happened in kindergarten this past year, the general pattern has been and will continue to be prudent reductions in our workforce.”

The board is also taking into consideration the district’s “long-standing, public commitment to personalized learning,” one of the four planks of the district’s strategic plan, said Mr. Gaspar.

“While there are several determinants of our ability to deliver on this commitment, maintenance of reasonable class sizes, professional development and innovation in instructional methods are three key drivers,” he said.

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