Questions persist about school enrollment
Enrollment in New Milford schools has been on the decline in recent years, and some have predicted that would be the case for years to come.
On that basis, the town’s Board of Education voted, 5-4, in June 2014 to close John Pettibone School at the close of the 2015 school year.
Well, that much was accomplished and, sure enough, enrollment is down, from 4,340 last year to 4,227 for the 2015-16 school year.
Funny thing, however, there are more students, 20 to be exact, in the town’s kindergarten classes this year than had been forecast.
The surprising influx of kindergarten students has forced the school district to hire another teacher for the 2015-16 school year.
The actual variance in total enrollment on Aug. 25 for grades pre-kindergarten through second grade at the two remaining elementary schools, Hill and Plain and Northville, is 33 more students than had been projected, 875 students.
“I’m very, very concerned,” said Board of Education member David Lawson. “We’re talking about close to a 10 percent error here, which is not in the acceptable range of error.”
Lawson, a Democrat, was one of four board members to vote against closing Pettibone in 2014 and one of three to attempt to buck the board Republicans’ party-line vote in June to give up its rights to the Pettibone building and property later this month.
The schools’ administration, however, does not think the unexpected bump in young student enrollment signals a change from the downward trend in enrollment.
Superintendent of Schools JeanAnn Paddyfote said she is still seeing “a downward trend.”
“Enrollment is still declining in New Milford,” Paddyfote said. “When comparing the current kindergarten enrollment to the largest class in the district, 360 in grade eight, the current kindergarten class is 115 students below that number.”
“Also, when looking at the total enrollment at year end June 2015,” she added, “we are 113 students below that number — 4,340 vs. 4,227.”
Kindergarten enrollment was projected at 226 students for 2015-16, 42 students less than 2014-15.
However, the start of school last week in New Milford arrived with a surprise. A total of 246 kindergarten students had enrolled, up 20 students from projections.
Paddyfote is taking the increase in stride. The district now has 14 kindergarten teachers with the new hire, she said.
She did not say how this unexpected result might impact decisions already made based on previous enrollment projections.
“A kindergarten teacher was added at Northville Elementary School to ensure equity across the two pre-K to grade two schools,” Paddyfote said. “We had anticipated a higher number of kindergarten students at Hill and Plain when we projected 226 students total in January.
“We had budgeted for seven teachers at Hill and Plain,” she reported, “and six teachers at Northville.”
Enrollment projections in 2010 anticipated a decline of students across the district of 11 percent by 2017-18, with pre-k to grade three classes to be affected the most.
An enrollment of 617 students in those grades was projected for 2020-21.
It was due to such projections that the board voted, 5-4, in June 2014 to close John Pettibone School, leaving Hill and Plain and Northville to carry the load.
Lawson noted the numbers presented in a 10-year projection were based on variables that could change very rapidly — housing construction, the unemployment rate and the economy.
“We should have waited another year or two before closing a school,” Lawson said. “We have to see if this unexpected variance for (grades) pre-k to second is a trend or a constant.”
“We did have to hire another kindergarten teacher,” he remarked, “which is a substantial miss in budgeting.”