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BC examines five-year projections for school enrollment

Filed in Archive by on December 20, 2016

Schools in the Bethlehem Central School District are expected to continue to experience declines in enrollment similar to many Capital Region schools but a large number of new and proposed housing units could have a “sizeable impact” on those figures, according to a consultant hired to look at the district’s enrollment trends and community development.

BC enrollment projectionIn the summer of 2016, the Bethlehem Central School District authorized the Capital District Regional Planning Commission (CDRPC), a regional planning and resource center serving Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady counties, to prepare district-wide school enrollment projections annually through the 2018-19 school year.

Each report is scheduled for release in the fall and will include projections for the following five school years. The reports look at key indicators such as 20-year enrollment trends, birth rates, residential housing activity, and other factors to draw key findings to produce the enrollment projections.

The first report in the series was received in November and was presented at the Dec. 7 board meeting by Daniel Harp, a senior planner at CDRPC. At the meeting, Harp discussed the commission’s findings beginning with the 2017-18 school year, and concluding with the 2021-22 school year. Some of the key findings of his report are outlined below. Click here for the complete report.

Enrollment projections:

  • Total enrollment for 2017-18 is projected at 4,500 students (a decline of nearly 2% from 2016-17)
  • 2017-18 enrollment projections for K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 is projected at 1,778 (-3.5%), 1,072 (0.0%) and 1,631 (-2.0%) respectively
  • Total enrollment by 2021-22 is projected at 4,179 students (a decline of 9.0% from 2016-17)
  • 2021-22 enrollment projections for K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 is projected at 1,734 (-5.9%), 974 (-9.1%) and 1,431 (-12.3%) respectively

Key take-aways:

  • 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.
  • Enrollment in K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 has declined across the board. Only K-5 shows any suggestion of stabilizing in its enrollment.
  • Millennials are set to graduate within the next three years leaving the much smaller Generation Z to follow.
  • Birth rates continue to slow with women waiting longer to have children and averaging fewer children in their lifetime.
  • Existing home sales are increasing which could lead to in-migration to existing homes may provide a boost to enrollment if home market continues to improve.
  • Over 700 residential units are either approved or proposed for development; such a large number of units could have a significant impact on future enrollment.

Harp said the timing of new housing in the district could have an “extreme impact” on district enrollment and while not factored into the enrollment projections compiled this year, the district should closely monitor the housing situation.

“Obviously, if all 766 units were to come online in just a handful of years, that would likely lead to a flood of new students entering the district,” said Harp. “Conversely, if only a fraction of those 766 units were to come online, and do so over a prolonged period of time, any impact in enrollment would be smaller and could more accurately be projected.”

Harp said there are currently a total of 21 approved and proposed housing developments underway that could total 766 new housing units in the district, the majority of which are planned for single family detached housing. Single family detached units, he said, are the most likely to house school-aged children as opposed to apartments or townhouses.

Additionally, he said, it is possible that growth in existing home sales could also reverse enrollment declines.

“With affordable housing prices and a highly regarded school district, Bethlehem could be an attractive landing spot for many young families,” said Harp.

Following Harp’s presentation to the board, Superintendent Jody Monroe explained what the possible residential developments and existing home sales growth could mean for grades K-5 in Bethlehem.

“The 2016-17 class average for Kindergarten students at BC is around 21 students,” said Superintendent Monroe. “The maximum is 25 students per classroom.”

“Traditionally, the elementary schools have added class sections to accommodate for larger classes in order to keep within the desired student-teacher ratio,” said Monroe. “Some schools have more flexibility in that capacity than others.”

In her discussion, she outlined current elementary room availability:

  • Eagle: 2 Rooms
  • Elsmere: 0 Rooms
  • Glenmont: 2 Rooms
  • Hamagrael: 2 Rooms
  • Slingerlands: 0 Rooms

If the school district was to see a large increase in kindergarten enrollment beyond 2017-18, the district would need to consider other solutions to help balance elementary class sizes across the five elementary schools, Monroe said.

One idea discussed at the meeting would be the use of “flex zones” or flexible attendance zones in future years if necessary. These are areas, she said, in which newly entering students could be assigned to one of two or more potential schools based on enrollment.

Superintendent Monroe said the district and the Board of Education would revisit the issue closer to the end of the 2016-17 school year.

View the December 7 Board of Education meeting discussion regarding enrollment.