Following the swearing in of new and re-elected members, the West Hartford Board of Education heard a report on enrollment projections for the next 10 years.
By Ronni Newton
The number of students enrolled in West Hartford Public Schools will continue to decline over the next 10 years at a rate of approximately 100-120 students per year according to a report presented to the Board of Education Tuesday night by Director of Finance and Planning Chip Ward, but the declines will not be dramatic enough to require redistricting or closing of facilities, he said.
“In years past this was always an exciting time because we were on an upswing,” said Ward. We’re obviously on a different part of the trajectory now.”
In the current academic year, there are a total of 9,483 K-12 students enrolled and according to Ward, expected to decline by 164 students by next year. In 10 years, a gradual decline to 7,988 students is projected.
Board member Cheryl Greenberg asked about allocation of space within the existing schools, and whether redistricting might be needed. “Redistricting – I hate to even say the word,” Superintendent Tom Moore said. He said that although it’s important to plan for the future, the projections are only for 10 years and closing elementary schools does not need to be considered at this time.
“We can look at smaller class sizes. Can look at portables that tend to be ‘energy pigs,’” Moore said.
The driver of projection is the number of births, which peaked in West Hartford in the early 2000s, Ward said. The district tracks the “cohort survival rate” for all grade levels, and between birth and kindergarten that rate had been over 1.0 for many years, but most recently has declined to .92.
Moore said that one possibility for the decline in kindergartners might be that while in the past families moved to West Hartford with preschoolers, meaning that children who weren’t born in town ended up in the school system, now maybe more are moving in before having children. “It’s a theory but we don’t know,” Moore said.
Ward said that overall, the number of West Hartford students in private schools has been declining, but CREC and Hartford magnet school enrollment has been growing. That number peaked last year at 539 students and is 483 this year.
Moore said that part of the marketing of Charter Oak International Academy, which will open its new building in August 2016, will be attracting the CREC and magnet school students back to West Hartford. The plan is to fill all 80 spaces per grade level, not to scale it back because of declining enrollment.
The middle school population is currently about 2,200 students and will drop to between 1,700 and 1,800 students in 10 years time according to Ward’s projections. The high school population, which has held steady at approximately 3,000 students, will drop to about 2,500 in 10 years, he projected.
There will be adequate space and projections are in line with building capacities, Ward said.
Historically, with the Baby Boom in the late 1940s to 1950s, there was amazing growth with a gain of up to 800 students per year, Ward said. At one time there were 17 elementary schools and four middle schools in town.
Enrollment reached a high of nearly 13,000 students in West Hartford Public Schools in 1970-71 before dropping back to 7,283 in 1983-84.
The “Baby Boom Echo” had an impact begininng in 1989-90, Ward said, with an average growth of 120 students per year, peaking at 10,091 students in 2010-11.
The complete enrollment report can be found in PDF form at the end of this article.
Prior to the start of the business portion of the meeting, the Board of Education paid tribute to outgoing members Bruce Putterman and Terry Schmitt. New members Dave Pauluk and Carol Blanks were sworn in, as were re-elected members Mark Zydanowicz and Cheryl Greenberg.
Mark Overmyer-Velazquez was re-elected chair, and Tammy Exum will continue as vice-chair. Pauluk will take over as financial examiner for the Democrats and Blanks will be secretary.
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