Here is a link to the Demographic Analysis/Enrollment Projection presented by Dr. Mark Joyce to the School Board and Board of Selectmen on June 9th. It has generated a lot of discussion.
The purely black and white math tells a stark story: our population is declining, getting older and there are less school age children.
If you scratch the surface just a bit more though, the report raises some questions. For example, Table 1 on Page 8 shows % student enrollment to Town population. It was 13.13% in 2006-07 and fairly flat today at 12.90%. The statistical update of the Town Population shows a drop of about 18%, but the percent of population to student enrollment dropped only about .23%. Keep in mind that enrollment dropped by about 19% since 2006-07.
I'm having trouble with that number as the presumption is that young families moved away and the rest of us just keep aging in place. So why is the percentage of school age population essentially unchanged? ( Yes it would have been a great question to ask during the presentation.)
As the report states, predicting future enrollment is difficult at best. The five year, three year and one year projections vary significantly.
In 2009, a Demographics Task force that the school put together internally, predicted that enrollment for 2014-15 school year would be between 450 and 510. It was actually 515. ( NH DOE). Close to the high number predicted, but not nearly as dire as low end. It is important to remember what Dr. Joyce said which is that each year you project out, the less accurate it becomes. It is important to look at all projections, not just a single one.
Here is another: Births over the past 8 years ( Table 2) averaged 22.25 and the median was 21.5.It was 20 in 2006 and 22 in 2013, the last year reported. The high was 27 in 2007. It would seem then that births are playing a very minimal role in the decline in student population.
Building permits were also mentioned. There is a sharp drop in 2008, the peak of the real estate crisis for single family houses, from 75 in 2007 to 37 in 2008. It was just 17 in 2013. These would be for brand new houses of course. We didn't tear down many houses in that period, but how many were vacant? How many were bought and sold and by what type of buyer?
In the end, the presentation and data as we were told, would not give us any answers, just food for conversation.
I see this issue as the next big thing this Town has to grapple with. We need a concerted strategy for economic development, but we can't really get there without consensus from the public. Do we want to grow, if so by how much and what do we want to become as a Town for the next 30-50 years?