CLIFTON PARK. N.Y. — Projections showing continued declines in total student enrollment in the near future for the Shenendehowa School District are just one part of a much bigger picture according to Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson.
Yearly student enrollment figures projected for the next five school years have been part of the district’s review process for more than a dozen years.
The projections are presented to the Board of Education each November by a representative of the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, an organization contracted by the Board for that purpose.
This year’s presentation took place at the Nov. 19 Board of Education meeting.
To formulate the projections the CDRTC looks at enrollment figures for the previous 20 years, trends in housing sales and housing construction, birth rates, survival ratios (the number of students that move on in the district schools from one year to the next), and last year’s projections.
One of the big surprises this year for CDRTC planners was the difference between last year’s projections for kindergarten enrollment and the actually number enrolled. Last November’s projections showed 600 students enrolling in kindergarten for the 2019-2020 school year. In actuality, only 518 enrolled.
“That number, 518,” said CDRTC planner Joshua Tocci, “is the lowest kindergarten enrollment we’ve seen in the past 20 years. It was a shock.”
Kindergarten enrollment is important because it feeds the district. Elementary school enrollment is important also because it’s an indicator of what is to come, Tocci said.
The enrollment data used by CDRPC show that there was a steady increase in total enrollment in the district from the 2000-2001 school year to the 2008-2009 school year. After that it began to level off. Enrollment remained level until the 2016-2017 school year when it began to decline.
According to Tocci, per the data, that decline in total enrollment is increasing and will continue to do so for at least the next five years.
The 2018-2019 year was a 20 year high point for high school enrollment, he said. Declines in enrollment seen in earlier years will start to be seen in the 2019-2020 school year.
“When you hit a 20 year high there will always be a slight decline,” Tocci said.
The concern lies with the decrease in kindergarten enrollments. If it continues, that dip or extended drop will move through the district along with the students.
When he discussed housing, their sales and construction, Tocci found the number of existing housing units within the district (28,699) to be the highest ever recorded in the years CDRPC has been doing the projections. At the same time there was a record 1,200 home sales in the district this past year. And the median price went down.
“You can assume families with young kids are moving into the district, settling down and enrolling in the district,” Tocci said.
The housing figures and the declines in enrollment caused board member Naomi Hoffman to ask why student enrollment was going down when house sales were going up.
“People are buying big houses with no kids and there is a growth in empty nesters. They like living here,” answered Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson.
In summary the report projects a continued enrollment decline. By the 2024-2025 school year, K-5 enrollment is projected to decline 534 students from this year’s levels and total enrollment is projected to decline by 747 students from the 2019-2020 school year.
“The projections are showing an acceleration of decline (in enrollment),” Tocci said.
The presentation and report caused board member Gary DiLallo to suggest having the district slowly move to full-day kindergarten.
“We’re not seeing any economic downturn, no significant increase in the cost of energy making us less attractive to commuters, we’re not seeing any change in our tax structure that would drive people away, all of which we’ve seen; so it makes one wonder,” he said. “It might make the district more attractive.”
Robinson cautioned board members to see the bigger picture; that the information was a projection only.
“We know there’s a huge difference between the number of kids who come to us as kindergartners and the number who come to us as first graders,” he said. “Projections are based on artificially low pieces; when you put them through, the system will show artificially low numbers.”
Robinson suggested the board use first grade rather than kindergarten as a basis. Were they to do that, he said they would see a relatively flat line across the board in enrollment.
“We go through this looking for reality,” he said. “In 2008-2009 we were panicking that we’d have 11,000 kids but internally we were not (panicking). We take in a lot of inputs, including what we see happening in the system.”
Robinson did note that the trend today is for people to have children later in life and fewer of them.
“I think the next two to three years will be moderate. If we see those big downturns we will take action,” he said.