(This was in Sunday''s Union Leader. It's hard to predict the future, but the trend is clear: 12 straight years of enrollment drops state wide. As we've learned here in our own school district, it isn't a linear equation to reduce costs and there are spikes in specific age groups that can make it more complicated. Sandwich for example may need to hire another teacher as it thinks about splitting a class of 27 students in the fourth and fifth grade classroom. I doubt anyone really knows if or when things will change. With an aging population that at least statistically appears to be buying housing units without children under 18, the nations lowest birthrate and a severe drop in the "Mass. migration", hard to say if it will level out at some point or continue to decline. A final thought is that while good schools can be a magnet, it doesn't seem to matter much to recent immigrants that do not have school age children.)
NH student enrollment continues to decline
By PAUL FEELY
There are many reasons why the numbers are dropping, but this gives districts a chance to reassess how tax dollars are spent on schools.
The number of students enrolled in schools across New Hampshire has consistentlydropped each year for more than a decade, and with that trend expected to continue, school administrators say an opportunity exists to examine how andwhere taxpayer dollars are spent in local districts.
“I don’t expect that the enrollment numbers will start going up again soon,” said Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association. “The impact on a budget won’t be seen right away, but over timethe answer is yes, districts will have a chance to look at what they are spending and where it’s spent.”
According to statistics from the state’s Department of Education, student enrollment across all public, private and charter schools in New Hampshire for the 2013-14 school year totaled 203,414. That’s down from 206,435 in 2012-13, and 209,495 in 2011-12. The figure represents the 12th straight year total enrollments have dropped in the Granite State, dating back to 2002-03, the high water mark in terms of enrollment, at 231,499 students.
On a county by countybasis, Hillsborough County saw the largest drop in students enrolled in public schools over a 10-year period from 2003 to 2013, down 6,753 students. Rockingham County saw the second largest drop with 3,748 students. Sullivan County saw the smallest reduction, down 1,013 students over the same 10-year time frame, according to state statistics.
According to a study by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, all but 31 of the state’s 161 school districts experienced declining enrollment from 2001 to 2010. Of those experiencing enrollment growth, only eight districts added 100 or more students.
What’s at play
The study concludes that demographic forces have more impact on student enrollment figures than housing construction. The study finds, based on analysis of new housing in four communities — Belmont, Milford, Rochester and Windham — the typical new single-family home generates 0.64 public school students on average, and new multi-family units generate 0.17 public school students per unit.
The study reports between 2000 and 2010, enrollment in the state’s schools declined by 21,600 students, despite the creation of 44,300 occupied housing units. Currently, fewer than one-third of New Hampshire’s housing units have someone under age 18 living in them.
Joyce said several factors are at play in New Hampshire, any or all of which contribute to the declining numbers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New Hampshire has the nation’s lowest birth rate at 9.4 births per 1,000 people. The national rate is currently 12 per 1,000 people.
An aging population
According to a report from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, the state’s population is aging quickly, with the number of births exceeding deaths by just 45,300 from 2000 to 2010. The drop in the state’s birth rate could in part be attributed to a drop in the number of New Hampshire residents aged 25 to 44, considered childbearing years. That age group fell by 57,000 over 10 years, and New Hampshire’s largest demographic group is those between the ages of 45 and 54.
Some of the decline can also be blamed on migration, according to the Carsey Institute’s research. New Hampshire home prices topped out in June 2005, a year that saw 16,300 Massachusetts residents move here. The number dropped to 10,100 in 2010.
Looking to future
Several districts aroundthe state have begun looking at future facility needs, based on declining enrollment projections.
Derry school officials held a public forum in November to hear the results of a facility needs assessment for grades K-8, conducted by Joyce. The study predicted a decline in enrollment through the 2024-25 school year, and “under-crowding” based on state and local class size standards. One of five options it presents is the closure of a school.
“We are in the very earlystages of looking at the options,” said Derry Superintendent of Schools Laura Nelson. “We are putting together a committee and anticipate the process will take between 15 and 18 months.”
Nelson said if a decision to close a school were made,the cost savings would go back to residents.
“The result would be tax relief,” said Nelson. “We wouldn’t look at what we could spend the money on. To be honest with you, it would go back to the taxpayers.”
In Salem, school officials voted in October to close the Haigh School, due in part to declining student enrollmentfigures. The move saved the district an estimated $800,000 in costs, yet the proposed fiscal year 2016 school budget of $65.4 million represents a $1.2 million hike over the current year’s budget. Most of that is due to interest and principal on debt associated with school renovation projects approved by voters.
Joyce said having fewerstudents in classrooms doesn’t always save districts money — at least, not in the short term.
“Losing two students per grade in a district in a year isn’t going to have much of an effect on a budget,” said Joyce. “You still need the same number of teachers, you still have to heat the schools. It’s when those declines continue, over time opportunities develop to look at how and where funds are being spent.”