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New Milford's school enrollment is declining

Published 11:17 am, Tuesday, January 15, 2013
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A report on the possible utilization of school facilities in New Milford reflects a rapidly declining student population.

The firm of Milone & McBroom, working with educational analyst Tom Jokubatis, is conducting a study for the Board of Education to find the best use of existing facilities.

New Milford currently has three elementary schools, one intermediate school, a middle school and a high school, as well as a central office location.

On Dec. 19, Mr. Jokubatis gave an analysis of existing conditions -- including enrollment projections, demographics, housing trends and school facility inventory and capacity.

He presented his findings to a committee of educators, school board members and parents who will try to reach a consensus on a plan of action.

While the school-aged population remained stable from 2000 to 2010, the aged 5 and younger group decreased by 20 percent -- as did the number of women of child-bearing age.

As a result, the district can anticipate smaller student populations, Mr. Jokubatis found.

Enrollment projections show a possible decline of 11 percent by 2017-18, with the preschool to third-grade classes affected the most. There has already been a marked decline in these grades since the 2007-08 school year, he found.

A total enrollment of 617 students in pre-kindergarten to third grade is projected for 2020-2021.

At this time, the three elementary schools -- John Pettibone, Hill and Plain and Northville -- have a total of 103 classrooms, each with capacity for up to 650 students.

Sarah Noble Intermediate School -- grades four to six -- has 56 classrooms, with capacity for up to 1,200 students.

Schaghticoke Middle School -- for grades seven and eight -- has 54 classrooms, with capacity for up to 1,000 students.

Board of Education member David Lawson agrees a reassessment of building utilization is essential.

However, he stresses, the focus must be on "what's best for our educational program."

"It's not just a question of building utilization," Mr. Lawson said. "We could consider closing East Street (the Catherine Lillis Administration Building offices) and moving the central office from there into Sarah Noble Intermediate School.

"The sixth grade could then be moved from Sarah Noble back to Schaghticoke Middle School where it belongs," he added.

Mr. Lawson noted having the sixth, seventh and eighth grades together in the same school makes sense, especially in light of the new state mandated requirements in education.

Board member David Shaffer, a retired teacher, is "not convinced that grades four, five and six belong together." Yet he is still waiting to "get all the information" from the facilities study before making recommendations.

Superintendent of Schools JeanAnn Paddyfote has said she wants to rethink Sarah Noble's demographics. When that school's principal retired in 2011, she filled the position with an interim principal.

Overall, New Milford's population is changing, as is housing growth, Mr. Jokubatis found.

While the total population of New Milford grew by 3.8 percent from 2000 to 2010, the western part of town lost population. This is the section of town where John Pettibone and Hill and Plain elementary schools are located.

Areas with the greatest housing growth still had declines in school-aged children.

The greatest future housing development is likely to be in the Northville area, where Northville Elementary School is, Mr. Jokubatis found.

stuz@newstimes.com; 860-355-7322