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Westport School Enrollment May Decline Soon

WESTPORT, Conn. – Classrooms in Westport schools may soon be a little roomier. Student enrollment across the district is expected to decline by 200 to 300 students from 2012 to 2017, a projection from the New England School Development Council showed.

Donald Kennedy, director of planning at the private educational nonprofit, presented the district's five-year projection to the Board of Education on Monday night. As he explained, this projected drop-off in enrollment comes after years of steady growth.

"The district has seen growth of about 700 students over a period of a decade," Kennedy said. "About 5,700 [students] is what you have now. That'll be dropping down to about 5,500 over a five-year period. In the grand scope of things, it's not great deal of difference."

This drop-off in enrollment, Kennedy said, will be created by large numbers of graduating classes and fewer students entering elementary schools. And the drop-off in elementary school enrollment, he added, is due to a decline in the number of elementary age children in town.

During his presentation, Kennedy cited data from the 2010 Census that showed the 0- to 4-year-old population in town dropped from 1,920 in 2000 to 1,448 in 2010. Since the economic downturn, fewer children have been born, he said. But in Westport, Kennedy said this decrease in young children also has to do with variances in the adult population, as the childbearing population is outnumbered.

Although school enrollment is slated to decrease over the next five years, Kennedy said it "will be interesting" to see what happens beyond 2017 because the median age in town is expected to decrease. Census data shows the median age in Westport is 44.6 years old. By 2015, the median age is projected to be 45.8. But by 2020, the median age is expected to drop to 30.2.

"There's going to be major turnover in property. People who currently own homes and have for a long time, are going to decide to downsize," he said. "When turnover does occur, you'll get a flood of students entering elementary school. We know from experience in other communities that among new children who move into newly available properties, 70 percent are typically elementary age."

Don O'Day, chairman of the school board, said it doesn't "always take these numbers on face value" but rather uses the projections as guidelines to help build budgets.

Although the projection isn't absolute, board member Michael McGovern said the district should not consider closing any of its elementary schools anytime soon if a boom in that population is in the town's future.

"We've made that mistake before," he said.

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