Across the region, public school enrollment is fluctuating widely. Danbury schools are overflowing, while Region 15 has lost 300 students in three years.
Monroe enrollment will decrease by 150 students next year, while according to the Strategic School Profiles, Oxford enrollment is up. Newtown is overcrowded in the high school, but diminishing in the lower grades.
The dropping enrollment is lower than expected considering regional projections by the Connecticut State Data Center (CtSDC) in a Rocky Hill Public Schools Enrollment Forecast 2005 to 2030. According to that report, schools across the state are expected to see a 17 percent reduction of students by 2030.
Superintendent of the Pomperaug School District, Frank Sippy said that by that account, Region 15 is holding it's own with only a four to five percent drop.
Some of the factors that are causing the enrollment drop across the state are the downturn of the economy, the trend of more people remaining single, and the aging “baby boomers,” the Housing Market Assessment by the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials (HVCEO) reports.
Seen for the first time in this country since World War 11, is the dropping number of people who are marrried with children. That number has shifted from 72.4 percent in 1980 to 62 percent today, reported the HVCEO report, which also stated that over 17 percent of households are now represented by some other type of living arrangement including people who are single, living together unmarried, or single with children.
Most of the "baby boomer" population is now beyond child bearing years, with almost one-third of the region's population is now between 45 and 64 years of age.
With an increasing amount of the population living distinctly different lifestyles than communities were originally designed for, shrinking families and the aging population are now seeking different housing than ever before, with condominiums and senior housing becoming the residence of choice for many.
The economy has also impacted where and how people are choosing to live. The Assistant Superintendent John Battista of the Monroe School District believes, “With the economy as it is, people aren't as quick to retire to other areas. Young families aren't moving in.”
Sippy agrees with that statement. “With this economy, we don't know where it is going to take us.”
All of the factors above may have a considerable impact on why schools across the state are seeing drops in enrollment, however, at least one school in the region is facing the opposite challenge.
Danbury is seeing an explosion of enrollment in their schools, which may be occuring because it is the leading source of employment from the Naugatuck Valley through the Greater Danbury area, according to the report, A Profile of the Central Naugatuck Valley 2010.
The Savin Report, 2007, examines the ways in which Danbury could accommodate the increasing number of children. The report stated, “Unless something is done to address those schools that have severe space problems, the situation will only worsen as elementary school enrollment is projected to increase by 400 students over the next five years.
These students will not be able to attend the overcrowded schools unless the district accepts certain educational compromises like surrendering art, music, and computer labs for classroom spaces, or housing instructional services for students in improperly ventilated closets and storage rooms.”
Danbury may be bucking the trend by being a major source of employment and offering reasonably priced single family housing, but there is a cost to increased enrollment in a school system that is struggling to keep programming intact.
“Over the years, fine arts have been crushed out of regular programming due to classroom space. Kids need other services and in some cases classrooms have had to be divided because loss of classroom space,” Danbury Schools Superintendent Sal Pascarella said.
“There is a continuum of problems in how it affects the curriculum. When classrooms are impacted by crowding, it's a comprehensive problem. The quality of the infrastructure is challenged. You can do things to alleviate the problem in the short term, but you are encroaching on the educational experience,” Pascarella said.
Even though Monroe's enrollment is expected to drop next year, there are similar challenges to be met due to the closing of one of the schools. “We will be decreasing by 150 students next year. We closed Chalk Hill due to dropping enrollment. The problem is that when you lose 25 students, it isn't from one grade, they could be in third grade, fifth or sixth. It's hard to know where to make changes.”
Danbury and Monroe have started STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) magnet school-within-a-school programs as a way of alleviating over crowding.
Besides the STEM program, Danbury has begun redistricting students from one school to another in a move called Sister Schools, which is a short term method of dealing with the overcrowding. “If we see Head Start move out of one building, we will be able to reclaim it for another school,” Pascarella said.
In addition to all of the other factors, there are also predictable changes that occur from year to year, Sippy said. “Eighth grade is the typical year that fluctuates. People start to look at private schools, alternative or magnet schools that specialize. That can affect planning.”
Future enrollment is determined by the Connecticut Health Department, which checks live births every year, and the rate on the ongoing age groups, Sippy said. “We make our best assumptions by checking two to three different sets of data, see if they collaborate. We've recently enlisted the service of another source to look at the data.”
“We have to look at redistricting different programs. Right now we don't have full day kindergarten and we would like to. We may be able to take advantage of funding if we do not build another school, but repurpose a school. We have a whole host of issues, looking at converting a school for an early childhood education program,” Sippy said.
The UCONN report stated that 67 percent of schools showed no growth and statewide, the schools lost almost 4,000 public school students. The infant to 19- -year-old age group is expected to further drop by 75,000 students between 2000 and 2030.