PHOENIXVILLE — Enrollment projections for the Phoenixville Area School District continue to climb rapidly, even faster than was predicted 12 months ago.
“The big headline basically from the updated enrollment projections is that the latest projections are predicting growth for the district than what we thought of just a year ago,” said district Director of Continuous Improvement Joe Antonio.
Two new projection paths were displayed in Antonio’s now-annual presentation to the Phoenixville Area School Board at its Feb. 20 meeting: one conservative and one moderate.
In the conservative track, the district estimates there will be 4,400 students in the district by 2019-2020. The moderate says 4,640 students.
Last year, Antonio’s presentation predicted 4,083 students.
Currently, there are 3,633 students in the Phoenixville Area School District.
“We are in a fairly dynamic period that’s somewhat unprecedented for us as a district,” Antonio said.
The presentation is part of a yearly look the district began doing to manage its burgeoning enrollment numbers.
Growth in the younger grades due to new housing developments, such as Fillmore Village on the town’s north side, and other related factors is spurring the district’s need for a new elementary school and the development of an early learning center to replace the already-overcrowded Kindergarten Center, according to the district.
Full-day kindergarten was added to the district this year and 2013-14’s 307-student kindergarten class is the largest since 1998, Antonio said.
Under the district’s conservative projections, that number would increase to 333 in five years. In the moderate projections, it’d be 354 students in kindergarten.
Going by both projections, the district’s elementary school buildings, collectively, will be over capacity by next school year.
Schuylkill Elementary School is already over capacity, Antonio said, and Barkley Elementary School is “right at” capacity this year.
Numbers are also higher this year because more students are sticking with the district, Antonio found, a factor in enrollment projections he called the “cohort survival rate.”
As it stands now, most classes in the district have a cohort survival rate of “100 percent or more,” Antonio said, meaning, for example, that the entire number of students in third grade one year will advance on to fourth grade and also potentially pick up some new students for the next year.
“Rather than attrition occurring and us losing some kids (to other schools or moving away) over time, those numbers stay stable or grow slightly,” Antonio explained.
For the conservative projection, the district used a cohort survival rate of 100 to 103 percent; for the moderate, they used 100 to 105 percent.
On top of the concerns for elementary school capacities, both enrollment projections showed the middle and high schools going beyond capacity in six years.
In last year’s presentation on enrollment, projections went as far as 2022.
This year, the projections only went to 2019-20.
“(The projections are) showing that we have a huge issue,” coming up, said Phoenixville Superintendent Alan Fegley. “Next year is easy, in all honesty. It’s the following two years that are going to be difficult. If you go out another year, the situation becomes untenable unless we come up with somewhere in the area of 200 seats.
Because of these new projections, Antonio said the early learning center/elementary school building currently planned for the Meadow Brook Golf Club site will have to be designed for more students.
“We’ll need to take this into consideration in design and size of the new early learning center and elementary school,” Antonio said. “It’s going to need to accommodate stronger growth than what we thought about a year ago...at this point, we are sizing the new (school building) to house about 1,150 students.”
That would account for an approximate 250 student upgrade on original plans.
Phoenixville plans to redistrict its elementary schools as part of an effort to address over-population in schools, but that appears to still be in its preliminary stages. District Executive Director of Operations Stan Johnson also said opening the planned elementary school/early learning center by the fall of 2016 “decreases by the day” as land development and construction is delayed by court challenges filed by Meadow Brook’s owners.
Although the future is daunting, Fegley believes its a challenge that can be met.
“That’s what’s good about having projections,” he said. “We can plan ahead.”
Check out a recap of last week’s board meeting here.