Region 1 schools could face declining numbers
Board of Education members in Region 1 are looking for a solution to declining student population.
Like other school regions in the area, Region 1 -- the towns of Kent, Canaan, Cornwall, North Canaan, Salisbury and Sharon -- has a sharply declining enrollment.
Projections for 2016-17 suggest only 1,474 students would attend the region's seven schools.
This year's enrollment is 1,566.
Current enrollment is the lowest in Canaan's K-8 school with 73 students and Cornwall's school with 84 students.
Kent Center School's present 252 students is expected to drop to 227 by 2016-17.
Projections were done by the New England School Development Council (NESDC).
"Enrollment projections from the fall of 2013 data were within 18 students of the actual enrollment in grades kindergarten through 12," said Superintendent of Schools Patricia Chamberlain in her February report to the board.
Chamberlain said NESDC identified two factors having the greatest impact on student population decline: the number of births and families leaving the district.
Birth rates for the next six to seven years are expected to be 83 to 108 births per year, about 30 fewer births annually than in the past decade.
Housatonic Valley Regional High School enrollment is expected to decrease by some 32 students within the next three years.
After that, projections indicate a slowdown in the decrease, barring unforeseen changes in real estate, Chamberlain said.
The district's All Board Chairs (ABC) committee in March considered a regionwide survey to hear what taxpayers are thinking.
"We discussed sending around a survey," said Perotti. "It would ask questions like `What is the per pupil maximum that taxpayers want to support in any given school?' "
Perotti said the education board has to know what matters most to taxpayers: child socialization; programs offered; money spent?
A survey would include the entire region in the discussion, she said.
The proposed 2015-16 budget for Region 1 is $15.4 million, up $311,500 or 2.06 percent from the current year. Per pupil cost would be $25,616.
In 2013, repeated region-wide budget referendums for the 2013-14 school year went into October, when the referendum finally passed on the seventh try with a $14.4 million budget -- a 1.6 percent decrease from the previous year.
On the other hand, in 2014, the $15.2 million 2014-15 budget passed in one regionwide referendum vote of 507 to 147.
Proposed solutions to escalating costs being considered by the education board include moving seventh- and eighth-grade students to Housatonic Valley Regional High School.
Talk of consolidation of grades K-8 schools hasn't been discussed, Perotti said.
"People feel very strongly about their little schools," she noted. "People may be talking about that at the coffee shops, but not on the board level."