Student enrollment in the Bethlehem Central School District is expected to continue to decline over the next five years, according to a recent report from the Capital District Regional Planning Commission (CDRPC). The report’s findings will be formally presented to the Board of Education as part of Superintendent Jody Monroe’s State of the Schools address scheduled for February 7, 2018.

This is the second year in a row the CDRPC, a regional planning and resource center located in Albany, has compiled school enrollment projections on behalf of the district using key indicators including district enrollment trends, generational patterns, birth rates, housing stock and residential development. Last year, the group’s projected enrollment for Bethlehem in the 2017-18 school year was on target, off by only two-tenths of one percent of actual K-12 enrollment.

“Enrollment data is critical to the district’s long- and short-term decision making,” said Superintendent Monroe. “Demographics and housing stock fluctuations can make some changes to enrollment hard to anticipate, however, we feel confident that by employing the services of the experts at CDRPC and staying in constant contact with local planning officials, we are working with the most accurate forecasts possible.”

Current enrollment for the 2017-18 school year is 4,518 for students in the district in grades K-12, the lowest number in 20 years. There were 4,600 students enrolled district-wide in 2016-17. Total enrollment for 2018-19 is projected at 4,425 students, a decline of 2.1 percent. Projected enrollment in 2022-23 is estimated at 4,135 students, a decline of 8.5% from the current school year.

District enrollment peaked in 2006-07 at 5,182 students.

In making the enrollment projections, CDRPC staff examined the following:

  • Historical enrollment trends since the 1990-91 school year;
  • District grade-to-grade survival multiplier calculated from the enrollment data in 5, 10, and 20-year increments;
  • Annual school district birth data since 2002;
  • Districtwide housing data including total count, and types of homes;
  • Residential building permit issuances from the towns of Bethlehem, and New Scotland;
  • Existing home sales; and
  • Anticipated new residential building activity in the District.

Keeping tabs on residential development

The report cited approved and proposed residential developments in the Town of Bethlehem as “an area to watch closely moving forward,” noting that it was not clear how quickly units will be constructed, or how quickly the proposed developments would be approved. The CDRPC projections were calculated based on the assumption that the proposed residential developments will be approved and completed in a relatively slow manner in line with the pace seen from currently active developments.

Superintendent Monroe said a more recent update from the Town of Bethlehem on the status of approved and proposed residential development projects indicates that a large percentage of planned residential growth is from multi-family units and townhomes, and that with a lengthy timeline from planning to construction for proposed single-family detached homes, there is little to suggest there will be a spike in new school-aged residents in the near future. Single-family detached units are the most likely to result in school-aged children.

There were no approved or proposed housing developments in the area of the district located in Town of New Scotland, as noted in the CDRPC findings.

“The district monitors the pace of residential development year-round in consultation with town officials. The information we look at helps paint a fuller picture of the data included in the CDRPC report,” said Monroe.

She said of the approximately 1,200 approved or proposed new housing units in the Town of Bethlehem cited recently by new Town Supervisor David Van Luven in his State of the Town address, 847 are in the Bethlehem Central School District. Some areas of the town are served by the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Central School District, where 286 housing units are proposed to be built, and by the Guilderland Central School District, where 52 of the units are slated to be located.

Of the units located in the Bethlehem school district, Monroe noted, 170 are single-family homes and 92 townhomes that have been approved or are in the construction phase. The 585 units that have been proposed or are under Planning Board review include 264 single-family homes, 108 townhomes, and 213 multi-family units.

“We are aware that the single-family home development would have the greatest impact on our enrollment,” said Monroe. “We also understand that the pace at which these properties are built and occupied is important to track. The CDRPC knows this can be the most significant variable in forecasting enrollment and the planning professionals there are careful to keep abreast of the housing landscape.”

Key findings from the CDRPC report

  • Total enrollment has been on the decline for most of the last ten years. After peaking in 2006-07, enrollment in 2017-18 declined 12.8% to its lowest level in the last 20 years.
  • Enrollment in the three age cohorts (K-5, 6-8, and 9-12) has declined across the board. While there is no indication that declines are slowing, there is evidence to show that declines in 9-12 will become more pronounced.
  • Enrollment is experiencing a generational shift. The final Millennials are projected to graduate within a handful of years. This will leave the District with only children of Generation Z attending, a generation significantly smaller than Millennials.
  • Birth rates continue a slow, but steady decline. In 2002, the District had almost 300 births, but that declined to 198 in 2015. With women waiting longer to have children, and averaging fewer children in their lifetime, it is unclear when the District should expect a turnaround in births.
  • At least 20 residential developments are either approved or proposed by the District. Such a large number of units could have a significant impact on future enrollment; however, the timetable for construction of these units is not yet clear. Close monitoring will be required to see how this develops.
  • Enrollment projections from the 2016-17 report were very accurate. Not counting special education students, projections for total enrollment were off by just 8 students. Projections for the three grade cohorts were all within 1% of actual enrollment.
  • Both total enrollment and enrollment by grade cohort are projected to continue to decline throughout the projection period. There are few signs that declines will slow.
  • Total enrollment for 2018-19 is projected at 4,425 students, a decline of 2.1% from 2017-18. Enrollment for K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 is projected at 1,790 (+0.3%), 1,042 (-3.5%), and 1,553 (-3.2%) respectively.
  • Total enrollment by 2022-23 is projected at 4,135 students, a decline of 8.5% from 2017-18. Enrollment for K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 is projected at 1,690 (-5.3%), 980 (-9.3%), and 1,425 (-11.2%) respectively. Total enrollment has declined 12.9% to its lowest level in the last 20 years. Enrollment is projected to decline by over 400 students by 2021-22.

Link to the Capital District Regional Planning Commission report here

“The CDRPC projections were very much on target for 2017-18,” said Superintendent Jody Monroe. “Using these projections as a resource and keeping a close eye on residential development will help us make informed decisions on behalf of our students and the community at large.”