Spring-Ford Area School District enrollment trending downward

One slide from a presentation given to the Spring-Ford Area School Board on enrollment projections in coming years. Screenshot of Buchart Horn Inc./Basco Associates presentation.

LIMERICK — The Spring-Ford Area School District has experienced a decline in kindergarten enrollment since 2007 that looks as if it will affect the district’s numbers well into the future, a new enrollment projection study indicates.

At Tuesday night’s Spring-Ford Area School Board meeting, consultants from Buchart Horn Inc. and Basco Associates gave the presentation detailing recent enrollment figures, future projections and factors playing into the number of students the district can expect in coming years.

“We’re just trying to give you a way to see the future and make wise decisions,” said Christopher Elnicki, one of the consultants.

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The study was the first one since at least 2004, the board estimated, before the construction of Evans Elementary School.

Numbers produced by the consultants showed that enrollment figures are projected to fall and that it starts with kindergarten enrollment.

In the 2007-08 school year, Spring-Ford’s kindergarten enrollment was 540. In 2013-14, it was down to 499 students.

Douglas Graby, another of the presenting consultants, indicated that the falling kindergarten enrollment is sympomatic of a lower live birth rate compared to the boom of the 1990s.

As a result, the district’s secondary education grades have seen an increase in student enrollment while those children have gone through.

“Those kids are finally coming through your school district,” Graby said.

Between 1990 and 2000, the population in the Spring-Ford Area School District grew by 50 percent, with an 82 percent increase in children up to 4-years-old.

From 2000 to 2010, the number of children up to 4-years-old only increased by 4 percent, and the total population growth slowed to a 30 percent increase.

“The beginning part of 2000, you still had a high increase in population,” Graby said. “It really wasn’t until that bubble in 2007 (or) 2008 that that really started to drop off.”

Projections indicate the total population will only grow by 6 percent between 2010 and 2020.

For 2014-15, 7,775 students across all grades are projected to be enrolled in the Spring-Ford Area School District, 74 less than 2013-14’s numbers.

The consultants came up with three separate options to look at enrollment projection for the years following, taking into account different live birth rates, economic conditions and other factors for each option.

Every option displayed a drop in the total number of students enrolled by at least 500 students within 10 years.

The option which presents the largest drop in students by 2023-24 takes into account the live birth rates from the three most recent years and takes into account the “lowest birth-rate average of the last decade.” That results in a projected loss of 793 students.

Option 3, which presents the least drop in enrollment — 529 students — takes into account live birth rates from the early parts of the 2000s and “reflects trends from (the) previously strong economy.”

However, planned residential construction appears to be poised for an uptick, with the numbers of single-family homes jumping in 2012, especially in Upper Providence, where many new projects are proposed.

“I think the key is how much land there is left to develop,” said Board Vice President Tom DiBello. “Limerick doesn’t have much residential land left to develop. Really, the sweet spot right now is Upper Providence. There’s land to develop, (though) not a lot.”

Graby said new residential developments coming in could “quickly and dramatically change” the projected population and, thus, enrollment figures.

“The school district should really pay attention to proposed housing developments,” according to Graby.

Summarizing their findings, the consultants said the “bad news” is that there still appears to be a “slight,” general lull in active construction of housing, the economy has still not recovered and the lower enrollment in the district’s elementary schools will filter through to the secondary schools in coming years.

They said the “good news” is that those proposed developments in Upper Providence might result in increased live birth rates that might attract.

“The good thing here is we’re not looking to go out and get another building,” said Board President Joe Ciresi.

With its current slate of buildings, especially at the elementary school level, the board sounded confident it could handle any booms that might come from new development, if they materialize.

Board member Bernard Pettit said he hoped to do enrollment projections like this every two or three years.

“We want to catch (an enrollment trend) at the cusp, not as it’s happening,” he said.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.