No calls for redistricting despite enrollment decline

Projected enrollment decline at the town’s two middle schools and at the high school over the next decade isn’t enough for the Board of Education to consider redistricting Ridgefield students.

Not yet at least.   

That’s because the district’s six elementary schools are expected to bottom out during the 2019-20 school year and are projected to begin growing slowly starting in the 2021-22 school year.

“When we get to 2022-23, we really need to think about that with the redistricting,” said Board Vice Chairman Doug Silver at the board’s Nov. 13 meeting. “[This year] there’s no need to address this at this time.”

Silver was responding to enrollment projections from Milone and MacBroom — a firm hired to prepare an annual report for the school board — that showed the number of students dramatically increasing at Barlow Mountain Elementary School over the next five years.

It was the only time during the school board’s discussion Tuesday night that the prospect of redistricting was raised.

The board rejected the idea of redistricting for the 2019-20 school year at another meeting earlier in the fall.

Also absent from the discussion was any talk of closing or mothballing one of the elementary schools — an idea that was brought up as recently as two years ago as a way to cut operating costs.

“If the projections had been done at the onset of the recession, it would have looked like a double diamond ski slope, now it looks like an intermediate slope,” said Mike Zuba of Milone and Macbroom.

He told the board that Ridgefield is “right in the middle of about where we would anticipate you would be.”

Elementary increase

Zuba’s annual report had elementary enrollment increasing by 8.4% over the next decade — with 2,099 students expected to attend Ridgefield’s six elementary schools during the 2028-29 school year, compared to the 1,937 students who were enrolled on Oct. 1 of this year.

Zuba said that elementary students are increasingly moving into the district, rather than being born here.

“Fewer and fewer students are actually born in the community where they first attend kindergarten,” he said.

Families tend to move with elementary-aged children, Zuba said, rather than middle school or high school children.

This year, about 41% of the district’s 196 kindergarteners enrolled after their family bought a home, compared to 2002, when 90% of the kindergarten class was born in Ridgefield.

Zuba’s report said elementary schools with the highest increase in their projected enrollment from the 2017-18 school year to 2018-19 school year were Barlow Mountain, Scotland and Ridgebury — all three are projected to see an increase over the next five years.

Home sales

Enrollment from home sales caught Silver’s attention. He pointed to a bump in the housing market between 2015 and 2017, when sales increased by about 10%, and asked why the board had not seen a bump in enrollment to match it.

Not all housing is sold to new families, Zuba explained.

Some families choose to relocate from one part of town to another, he said, referencing the 23% of homes sold in the Veterans Park district that covers Main Street and surrounding neighborhoods.

Housing near that specific school “isn’t really geared toward young families,” Zuba said, and it’s one of the causes leading to a project enrollment decline of 39 students over the next five years — the most significant decrease for any of the six elementary schools.

Most of the new builds in the center of town are concentrated on age-restricted housing for older residents, Zuba said, which are not “student generators,” like single family homes and subdivisions.

Middle schools

Zuba said he expects a decrease in middle school and high school enrollments over the next 10 years due to Ridgefield elementary schools currently approaching “the bottom” of the town’s recent enrollment decline.  

For the two middle schools, Scotts Ridge and East Ridge, that means a decline in enrollment of 6.7% over the next decade, according to Milone and Macbroom. Enrollments are expected to drop from 1,201 as of Oct. 1 this year to 1,120 students in the fall of 2028.

Because the three elementary schools that “feed” students into Scotts Ridge — Scotland, Ridgebury, and Barlow Mountain — have larger kindergarten classes currently, Scotts Ridge is “projected to have larger enrollment” than East Ridge Middle School by the 2022-23 school year, the report said.

Veterans Park and Farmingville elementary schools, whose students go to East Ridge Middle School, are also both projected to have lower enrollments over the next five years than the other four elementary schools. Branchville Elementary, whose students go to East Ridge, is expected to have comparatively higher enrollments than Veterans Park and Farmingville.

These projections could lead to a possible need for redistricting in five years, which Silver alluded to during the meeting.

High school

The high school is also projected to see an enrollment decline of 13.3% over the next decade — a decline from 1,630 students this year to 1,413 students in the 2028-29 school year.

High school enrollments have also taken a hit from families moving out of the district — a phenomenon Zuba said he has no way to track.

“I wonder if it’s the uptick in the economy and more people are moving out,” said board Chairwoman Fran Walton.

Zuba said that could be the case. It could also be one employer shaking up their business. “Maybe they’ve made some restructuring,” he said.