‘Striking’ drop in student enrollment, but stabilization predicted
WESTPORT — A substantial drop in student enrollment this year has left school board members wondering if the numbers are an aberration, or point to a larger trend.
At the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, the school district had 122 fewer students starting the year than predicted. Additionally, Milone and Macbroom consultant Mike Zuba told the Board of Education Monday night that enrollment numbers will steadily decrease over the next decade.
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“As we see in many of our client communities, and Westport’s no different, your student body, your immigration, your school system is driven by the sales of a lot of new or existing single family homes,” Zuba said. “Overall, we’re seeing a large dip this year in housing sales.”
He noted there were just under 300 single-family home sales this year in town, the lowest in nearly a decade. A lack of sale price recovery, a higher demand for the rental market, middle school facilities changes and some lack of faith in the federal economy where all potential reasons for the low sales, according to Zuba.
The school district’s enrollment has been historically steady at around 5,400 to 5,600. However, this year’s count dropped to around 5,250. Coleytown Elementary School was the only elementary school to experience an increase with a 2.6% bump in enrollment. Greens Farms Elementary School and Saugtuck Elementary School had the steepest declines of 6.3% and 9.4%, respectively.
The decreases represent a downward trend in enrollment across the district, driven primarily by declining kindergarten through fifth-grade enrollment.
“As we talk about enrollment decline in Connecticut, we talk about enrollment decline in Westport as well as elsewhere,” Zuba said. “We’re seeing the same kind of phenomenon across the board.”
However, these numbers are expected to stabilize in the coming years.
Coleytown Midde School is projected to experience stable enrollment, around 420 to 450 students, over the next decade. Bedford Middle School’s enrollment will also stabilize at 720 to 760 students after an initial decline, Zuba said.
“Our recommendation is to keep track of the housing market,” Zuba noted. “That will really impact the accuracy of these projections going forward for a number of years.”
BOE member Vik Muktavaram called the declining enrollment “striking,” and questioned if this year represents an aberration, and if it could be tied to parents pulling children out the public school systems for private schools.
“Anecdotally what I’ve heard is some of this has to do what has been going on in town with regards to CMS and the response and so forth,” Muktavaram said.
BOE Chairman Mark Mathias said once the reconstruction of Coleytown is complete, the town could see a bump in the number of students at the middle school level. He added the improvements outlined in the recent facilities report could also be beneficial.
“That’s also going to be an attractive component,” Mathias said. “Our schools are going to be in much nicer shape. ... I think that’s going to have a positive impact on enrollment.”
The BOE further outlined some questions to present to administration and the district demographers regarding redistricting. This ranged from viewing average middle school class sizes in towns within Westport’s District Reference Group to further detailing the split feeder scenario.
Residents also asked that educational impact as well as the costs to any future changes be addressed.
The BOE will continue the discussion on redistricting at its meeting on Nov. 19.