Are Redding’s school populations rising, or falling?

Students at Redding Elementary School.
Students at Redding Elementary School.


There are 270 students in Joel Barlow High School’s Senior class — the largest the school has ever held. But the same high school will have just 208 freshman this year, and its total enrolment is projected by experts to fall as low as 660 in eight years.

Last year’s Redding Elementary School kindergarten class had about 60 students, small even by Redding’s standards. But, unexpectedly, this year’s class has over 100 students registered — a 66% increase. Easton’s kindergarten class is also higher than last year at 77 students.

Such disparities are indicative of the problems facing Redding, Easton and Region 9 school administrators and board members as they work to plan for the future. Both towns have apparently declining student populations, all the way down to kindergarten, that is.

So, many in town have written letters to the Pilot asking, ‘If our school population is going down, then why aren’t our property taxes?’

The answer to that question, Superintendent Dr. Tom McMorran said during an interview this week, is multi-faceted. Fixed building costs, contractual obligations, and government mandates are a number of factors driving up the cost of education in every suburban Connecticut town, he says.

“One thing people expect is that with fewer students, it’s should cost less,” McMorran said. “It does cost less, because we’ve been reducing faculty and staff for six years, but your costs are also constantly going up to meet contractual obligations and the general cost of business.

“And,” he added, “the buildings are the same size.”

Such logic has led some in Redding to float the idea of closing a school, or a wing of a school. Fifth graders could return to Redding Elementary School and a portion of John Read Middle School could be repurposed for town use, for example.

But, with this year’s unexpected increase in kindergarten registrations across both towns, such a closure could also be premature. School populations have tended to wax and wane in waves in the last 70 years, Dr. McMorran says, and the kindergarden increase may (or may not) be indicative of a new upwards trend.

“I’ve asked the data center at the University of Connecticut to help us figure out if [the kindergarten class] is the next uptick in population or if it’s an anomaly,” he said, “and it is just not clear yet.”

He also says interested parties should bear in mind “the greatest cost of closing a school is reopening it when the town’s population begins to rise again.”

Long-range planning

Overall, however, it seems Redding and Easton’s schools will continue to drop in population for at least the next decade, in line with the trend throughout Connecticut.

This decline must lead to a “conversation about our community over the next 15 years,” McMorran said. “The discussion fits right in with the fact that we do love our kids here, and we have to work together to ensure they’re getting the best possible education.”

To fully study this predicament, and others facing the future of Redding schools, the Redding, Easton and Region 9 Boards of Education plan to initiate a Long Range Planning Committee made up of members of all three boards.

And, in Redding, the Boards of Education and Finance have designated an ad hoc committee of members to standardize comparative financial, demographic and educational metrics used to evaluate the school’s efficiency.

Last week, the ad hoc committee laid out the dangers of comparing per pupil costs across the state’s District Reference Group A as a way to determine educational efficiency.

Board of Finance member Peg O’Donnell said at the Tuesday, Aug. 16 meeting that “comparing per-pupil costs across districts can be fraught with problems, because each district computes that number in its own way.”

“The per-pupil cost is what people look at and say, ‘this is the final number. This is all I need to know,’” she said. “But, it’s not a state methodology. It’s how the towns chose to look at their numbers.”

Finance Director Peggy Sullivan agreed.

“There’s $1 million in the Redding budget [for a pension program] that’s just not showing up in Easton because it’s in the Easton Town budget. The state doesn’t take that into consideration,” she said.

Everyone gets a say

“I believe in balanced discussions and that everybody gets a say in part of the answer,” Dr. McMorran said of the difficulties faced in Redding and Easton.

“Of course we want quality schools at the lowest cost to taxpayers — and I’m highly sensitive to the property taxes that a completely residential community has to pay to support their municipal works. But, I think the balance is this: A healthy town needs a strong school system.”

A strong school system, he says, should lead to more families moving into town.

“We need to have Easton and Redding be places that people want to move to,” he added. “I think you have to balance the cost of running the school against the vision the town has of itself.”

McMorran says he will frame his advocacy for the school districts using four questions over the next few years:

  • How are we using resources to build the capacity of teachers to deliver excellent education?
  • Where are we collaborating to get the benefit of a team approach?
  • Are we completely focused on teaching, learning and measuring it?
  • Are we a school system, or a system of schools?

“We’ve historically been a system of schools and the work we’ve put in the last six years has been to turn us into a school system,” McMorran said, noting such alignment benefits both Redding and Easton students when they enter Joel Barlow.

As recently as 10 years ago students from Redding and Easton elementary and middle schools were using different curriculum and even different text books.

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  • Alex Gray

    So the argument here is two fold first, unlike anywhere else, there is no relationship between the demographics and the cost of education in Redding and second, Redding will continue to spend $20M+ and growing as long as there is at least one student in each one of Redding’s elementary school, middle school and high school.

    How abused is this argument?

    In Redding the school and the police budget seems to have only one direction UP! Regardless of demographics, lack of inflation, no housing or population growth and complete absence of crime and documented student population decrease, in Redding costs and taxes continue to grow indefinitely.

    Consequently, the only hope to return to some form of spending sanity, for anyone living in Redding today, is to sell and leave. And as the property values decline and people leave, the remaining residents will be asked to forever pay more and more taxes to support this insane school system and out of control police department spending together amounting to more than 50% of the spending in Redding or ½ of $47M annually.

    • Bo Zho

      STFU crazy man. Get a job and/or increase your meds.

      • Alex Gray

        Einstein, you call this an argument? Where did you get your arguments skills Trump University? Same place you got your manners?

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