A special study focusing on demographics and enrollment projections for the school district was recently presented to the Weston Board of Education.
The study was prepared by Donald Kennedy of NESDEC (New England School Development Council) and was set to be discussed further at a special meeting of the school board, selectmen, and finance board on Wednesday, Oct. 10.
Phil Schaefer, school board chairman, said the study was done in order to help the district with its strategic planning for upcoming space, facilities, and financial needs.
According to data compiled in the study, enrollment in the Weston schools has gone up and down from 2001 to 2011. It is currently on the decline.
In 2001, the enrollment in pre-K through grade 12 was 2,370 students. Enrollment hit a peak in 2006, with 2,615 students. By 2011, enrollment was down to 2,487. As of Oct. 1 of this year, enrollment is 2,430.
Enrollment is projected to steadily decrease in the next 10 years, according to the study.
Mr. Schaefer and Superintendent Colleen Palmer said it’s important to note that the numbers in the study are just projections and the further out they go in time, the less reliable the numbers are.
In times of economic uncertainty, there are three scenarios that could likely play out in the next 10 years, according to the study: Economic trends will continue as they are, the economy could improve by 2016-17, or the economy could improve by 2014-15.
Estimates for the student population four years from now vary considerably (by as much as 732 students) based on the three different scenarios.
If economic trends continue on the downside as they are at present, the projected enrollment for Weston is 1,812 students in 2016.
Assuming an economic uptick by 2016-17, projected enrollment in 2016 is 2,047 students.
Assuming an economic uptick by 2014-15, the projected enrollment in 2014 is 2,544 students.
Upon analysis of the demographic and enrollment data collected, the study reported the following findings:
- Births in Weston (and in many communities in the region) will continue to be slow for several years, as the present Weston population rose to a median age of 43.4 years in 2010.
- The number of home sales and median sales price in Weston has gone down steadily in the past seven years. In 2005, 198 homes were sold with a median sales price of $975,000. In 2011, 104 homes were sold with a median sales price of $750,000.
- The pace of real estate sales will continue to be a more important factor in forecasting future Weston enrollments because of Weston’s historically high ratio of K-12 students per dwelling (6.7 students per 10 dwellings, compared with the state average of 3.7 public school students per 10 dwellings in 2010). In 2000, Weston had 6.6 students per 10 dwellings, consistently at or near the highest in the state.
- After past economic slowdowns, real estate sales historically picked up in Weston slightly after they did in Westport. Sales and leasings in Westport are beginning to pick up, as are enrollment figures there.
- An uptick in the rental/leasing of homes in a number of District Reference Group (DRG) A and B communities appears to be a major factor causing unanticipated additional school enrollments in fall 2011 and 2012.
- Construction of new housing in Weston does not appear to be a major factor at this time, although there are about 100 permits each year for remodelings or additions, down from about 150 permits in 2005.
- Weston Realtors report anecdotally that new clients within the past two years are as likely to have young children as in prior years.
- Weston prices have relaxed a bit, drawing in new clients. Some who were waiting to downsize are beginning to consider listing their properties.
- Weston’s public schools continue to be the major factor drawing new families to the community, balancing quality-of-life issues with strong fiscal management (only modest mill rate increases for the past four years).
- The strong track record of students within the Weston public schools is reported as a reason why families move to Weston. For example, 26% of the Weston High School Class of 2012 was accepted to colleges and universities defined as “most competitive.” Newsweek ranked the high school as the No. 1 high school in Fairfield County and No. 2 in the state; 94% of the 474 Advanced Placement exams taken in 2012 were scored 3, 4 or 5 (highest); the combined SAT scores were 1,794, with an average of 608 in writing, 597 in math, and 589 in critical reading.
Mr. Schaefer said the school board has not made any decisions yet based on the NESDEC study, and is currently reviewing the information provided.
“This will be a helpful tool for the board in future planning,” he said.
Information used by NESDEC to formulate the study came from numerous sources: nearby communities; the Nellie Mae Education Foundation; the New England Economic Partnership, including Mark Zandi, chief economist; Moody’s Analytics; Ross Gittell, professor of business and economics, University of New Hampshire; Edward Deak, professor of economics, Fairfield University; Weston’s town manager, building inspector, and planning office; Realtors who are residents of Weston; the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA), which includes Weston and seven other communities; and members of the Weston Board of Education and school personnel.