School Board Hears Enrollment Report

Interim Superintendent of Schools John Reed presented an enrollment report to the Board of Education during its meeting on Wednesday, October 16.

Dr Reed said the report demonstrates that it is best to use its enrollment numbers rather than projected enrollment numbers when planning the next budget.

“I think they will be more helpful, because they will reflect more of what is happening now,” said Dr Reed.

Later the interim superintendent warned that it is important not to make assumptions based on the 2013-14 school year, due to the unique circumstances of the year.

At the school board’s October 1 meeting, Dr Reed spoke briefly to prepare the school board for the then-future report. He said, when comparing actual enrollment to projections made by Hyung Chung of H.C. Planning Consultants of Orange in 2010, 73 percent of the difference could be accounted for by a decline in students at Sandy Hook School. He later pointed out the 73 percent difference between the projected number of students and the actual number of students is a matter of five children.

“It is quite clear to me that the tragedy itself has had an impact on the people who live in town,” said Dr Reed at the October 1 meeting, specifying he believes it is a short-term impact. He added that it is “one of the reasons why I caution people when making assumptions about the future based upon the terribly unusual tragedy that we have been through.”

The report shared at the October 16 meeting included a breakdown of each school’s enrollment, the number of students who are new, and how many students left each school.

According to the report, which is available here, the district had 4,914 students enrolled on October 1, which is five fewer students than were enrolled as of August 27. That number does not include out-of-town students.

The report also compared the October 1, 2012, enrollment to this year’s numbers. Overall, including out-of-town students, 5,200 students were enrolled in Newtown schools as of October 1, 2012, as compared to the 4,951 students enrolled as of October 1 of this year.

All of the charts in the report are marked as “unofficial.” It also compared H.C. Planning Consultant’s projections with the current enrollment and with the enrollment numbers used to prepare the 2013-14 budget.

“I think it is important to note there are 141 students who did move into Newtown to begin the school year,” said Dr Reed, “and it certainly does help to address the question of whether people are still finding this a town that they want to move into in spite of the circumstances that we faced last year.”

Near the end of the report, Dr Reed reiterated that he believes it is important not to make assumptions for the future based on the past year, “for very obvious reasons.”

Board of Education Secretary Kathy Hamilton pointed out that the elementary enrollment, reported as 1,465 as of October 1, is now below a 1,500 benchmark.

In February 2012, a School Facilities Ad Hoc Committee recommended to the school board to begin studying enrollment and the option of closing a school, with a focus on Reed Intermediate School, when elementary — kindergarten through fourth grade — enrollment dropped below 1,500.

“Maybe it is not this year, but we certainly should be starting the conversation about what we want to do in the future as far as how our schools are laid out,” said Ms Hamilton.

Board member Richard Gaines said he agrees it is important to “keep an eye on our possible actions in the future,” but also said it is inappropriate to attempt an enrollment study at this time “given the conditions in Newtown.”

When school board Chair Debbie Leidlein questioned some classroom enrollment numbers that were higher than others, Dr Reed said all of the classroom enrollments, specifically at the elementary school level, are below the school board’s guidelines of having 25 or less students per classroom.

Dr Reed said the school district, possibly no district in the state, is funded to always have 18 or 19 students in a classroom, and not to go near the guideline number on occasion.

Looking forward, Dr Reed said reasonable and “prudent decisions” will be made in the coming 2014-15 budget based on enrollment numbers. He also warned that some difficult decisions will be made this year.

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