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Westport schools project stable enrollment, but corporate properties' future a wildcard

Published 1:53 pm, Tuesday, December 3, 2013
  • David G. Kennedy of the New England School Development Council explains the school system's enrollment projections during a Board of Education Meeting Monday at Staples High School. BOE chairman Elaine Whitney looks on. Photo: Anne M. Amato / Westport News
    David G. Kennedy of the New England School Development Council explains the school system's enrollment projections during a Board of Education Meeting Monday at Staples High School. BOE chairman Elaine Whitney looks on. Photo: Anne M. Amato

 

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Westport school enrollment figures, current and projected
2013-14: 5,765 students
2014-15: 5,743 students
2015-16: 5,740 students
2016-17: 5,734 students
2017-18: 5,757 students
2018-19: 5,752 students
(Source: New England School Development Council, David G. Kennedy)
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At least for the next five years, Westport public schools' enrollment figures should remain "pretty flat," according to David G. Kennedy of the Massachusetts-based New England School Development Council.

Kennedy gave a presentation on enrollment projections to the Board of Education meeting Monday at Staples High School.

But, he added, board members need to "keep an eye" on "older residents downsizing and selling their homes to younger families," which could cause numbers to rise down the road.

Current 2013-14 enrollment is 5,765 students. That number in the 2018-19 school year is predicted to only slightly lower at 5,752, according to information supplied by Kennedy.

"The numbers will be almost he same five years out," said Kennedy. He said the school system is on a "pretty consistent path" where enrollment is concerned.

School board member Michael Gordon asked Kennedy if "those are the most conservative numbers to go with."

"I would rather err with more students than with less," Gordon said.

"I would be surprised if the enrollments were higher" than predicted, Kennedy said.

Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon expressed concern that there has been a "problem at the high school with increased enrollment."

Kennedy said the Westport school system is "unique" in that it has most of its new students coming in at the high school level, while in many communities the higher student population is generally in the lower grades. "Very few (school systems) see many high school students move into town," he added.

Landon said that's probably because of the $1.7 million median selling price for homes in Westport. "Not many parents with kindergartners can move in," he said. But, he said, they begin to "by third grade."

"We should have put on a new wing, it could have handled 2,000 students," Landon said. There are currently 1,837 students in grades nine to 12 at Staples High School. In the 2018-19 academic year, that number is expected to be at 1,951, according to Kennedy's projections.

"There is definitely upward pressure at the high school," said board Chairwoman Elaine Whitney.

Landon said school expansion, to accommodate the increasing number of high schoolers, has been a topic "for the last 15 years."

"The building was designed to be expanded," he said of Staples.

Whitney asked if the school system is "OK with (the high school) building now."

"We're comfortable now," Landon said.

Besides seniors selling to younger families, the prospect of future housing development -- including what might happen to large buildings currently occupied by Bridgewater Associates, which is expected to move to Stamford, and the Save the Children headquarters, which recently was sold to a local developer -- was raised..

"They can be adapted for residential use," Landon said. "That would mean more children in our schools and that would be a real issue for us."