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Tuesday, December 1 News

Westport enrollment projected to go down over next five years

WESTPORT — Despite record numbers of families moving into town, a consultant told the Board of Education the district is projected to see fewer students over the next several years.

“The enrollment will continue to decline,” Karen LeDuc, of the New England School Development Council, said at a recent school board meeting.

Overall enrollment for kindergarten through high school is projected to drop from 5,264 to 5,185 next year, according to a report by NESDEC. It is then estimated to be 5,094 in the following year, then 5,024, followed by 4,921 and finally 4,866 in the 2025-26 school year.

But enrollment this year was 5,264, up from 5,246 in 2019-2020.

The overall projected enrollment decline was in large part a result of a projected decline at Staples High School where officials expect to see 259 fewer students over the next five years, LeDuc said. In comparison, kindergarten through fifth grade will see a decline of 144 students over the same time frame.

LeDuc said this calendar year also saw 338 kindergartners enrolled which had a positive impact on enrollment.

She said a factor to consider is New York City families moving to the suburbs in order to access the public schools and get out of the congested city.

But the U.S. Department of Education anticipates pre-kindergarten will decrease in the Northeast, LeDuc said, and a 12 percent decline is projected for the state.

“This is on par with what Westport is currently seeing,” she said. “It magnifies the importance of what we have seen as the support for education in Wesptort, but also it looks at the big picture and how Westport can look at what are their next steps as they think about educating all of the students they have in front of them.”

BOE Chair Candice Savin said she was surprised there wasn’t a bigger enrollment bump due to the state of the real estate market currently.

LeDuc said the town has always had a robust real estate environment — though not as robust as it is now — but it could take several years to determine long-term impacts.

“We certainly do not have enough data with one year of data to look at any trends or determine next steps,” she said. “So we’ll watch it, but we do know it’s something that is a factor.”

BOE Vice Chair Jeannie Smith said it may be beneficial to the district for planning purposes to work in collaboration with local real estate agents to determine trends.

“I would be very curious to know if we as a district could have some insight to the local real estate market with some friendly local Realtors who might be able to get us a sense of interest level, and maybe even age-range,” Smith said, adding it was a unique time despite the projected decline.

Board of Finance member Jim Foster said the enrollment projections were not meant to be used as a club for the current year to make cuts, and instead should be used for planning purposes.

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“But I would say I look forward to more dialogue with you guys regarding that strategic look moving forward assuming that even after 2025 it may continue to go down,” he said. “Not as a way to cut, but as a way to understand where we are going...for me that’s the most important thing I took out of the dialogue tonight.”

Lauren Karpf, a Representative Town Meeting member, said as the town heads into budget season it needs to look at the enrollment numbers this year, which are up.

“We can plan beyond that to some extent, but I think that’s the most immediate,” she said.

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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