Elementary school enrollment: Consultant projects increase after 2020-21
Ridgefield’s decline in elementary school enrollment should bottom out after the 2020-21 school year, with overall district enrollment expected to bounce back by 2026-27.
That was update the town’s Board of Education received from consulting firm Milone & MacBroom at its Nov. 13 meeting.
“Looking at your new arrivals — for lack of a better term — you’re near the very, very top of communities that are getting new students moving in, rather than being born there,” Michael Zuba, a representative from Milone & MacBroom, told the board.
Zuba said 4,866 students are enrolled in the district this year — down 106 students from the 4,972 students who attended Ridgefield schools in 2016-17.
According to the firm’s “high projections” for Ridgefield, elementary school enrollments will continue to decline over the next three years before increasing by 21 students in the fall of 2021.
“While enrollment is decreasing, it does not decrease to the magnitude of earlier projections,” Superintendent Karen Baldwin wrote in her memorandum on the report, “and the enrollment rebounds faster than projected.”
Zuba said the rebound at the elementary level is being driven partly by an influx of new parents — a change from years past, when the town birth rate would ensure a steady influx of new kindergarten students.
“I think back in 2012 or 2013, there was an expectation that the elementary population might even dip down to 1,600 students — and that is not what has happened,” said Board of Education Chairwoman Fran Walton.
“It never gets below 1,900,” she said, looking at the projections. And that’s “because of the inward migration [of students coming from new homeowners].”
“I think our proximity to New York helps,” she added. “You know, I’ve heard people say that they’ve moved here from Westchester.”
Over the next decade, enrollment will continue to decline at both Scotts Ridge and East Ridge middle schools, and at the high school, Zuba said. One of the reasons behind this trend, he added, are smaller kindergarten classes that are now making their way through the school system.
Those classes might be getting larger as they move through the elementary level though.
Zuba highlighted that the latest enrollment report found that 99 of the 143 new students this year were elementary school children who were enrolled in the district after their parents bought a new home.
“Am I hearing this right, that people are waiting until they have a kindergartner to move here?” board member Doug Silver asked Zuba.
“Instead of moving to town and then starting a family, they’re sort of showing up with a family in tow, for lack of a better term,” Zuba explained.
Last year, to combat declining enrollment at Scotts Ridge, the school board voted in favor of changing the way elementary schools feed into the middle schools.
The goal was to create an “even split,” with fifth grade classes from Branchville, Farmingville, and Veterans Park elementary schools going into sixth grade at East Ridge Middle School, and fifth grade students from Barlow Mountain, Ridgebury, and Scotland elementary schools feeding into Scotts Ridge Middle School.
Zuba said the switch has created a short-term increase at Scotts Ridge but a decrease at East Ridge.
“I think that the board needs to look at the feeder pattern, and take a look at our enrollments in Scotland [Elementary School], and how Scotland feeds Scotts Ridge,” said Baldwin. “We may need to look at redrawing some boundary lines at the elementary level so that we can better populate Scotts Ridge so that it’s not greater than East Ridge.”
Scotland had the largest number of students generated from home sales in 2017, Zuba said. Twenty-six new students enrolled in the district as a result of a home purchase between January and September.
Whether or not the board decides to redistrict, both middle schools are expected to see an overall decline in enrollment over the next 10 years. In total, middle school enrollments will likely fall by about 13.1% by 2027-28, according to the demographer’s report.
Ridgefield High School will be dealing with a similar problem. Zuba projected a 14% decrease in enrollment over the next decade. He added that enrollment at RHS this year was lower than previously projected.
“So change start times, redistricting — anything else we’ve got out there, Dr. Baldwin?” Walton jokingly asked the superintendent. “What’s the trifecta?”
Board member Michael Taylor said the number of new families choosing to move to Ridgefield is a good sign for the town.
“It speaks to the attractiveness of the town — especially for families moving in,” he said.
“That’s the greatest endorsement of the town.”