For the first time in 20 years, overall student enrollment in the Bethlehem school district is on the decline. The annual long-range planning report compiled by the district shows a decrease of 10 students in the 2007-08 school year, brining the projected enrollment to 5,172 students.
This is pretty noteworthy, said Superintendent Les Loomis.
From 1996 to 2006, student enrollment increased by 600 from 4,619 students to more than 5,200 students before the trend shift.
"Finally, we are projecting enrollment will go down a bit," Loomis said.
Statistics indicate that student enrollment will remain relatively constant for the next five to 10 years, and new capital con-struction was on target with the projections.
One of the main reasons for the stagnant enrollment is the lack of new single-family housing development.
"There is just not that much new land for development here," Loomis said.
Town officials who worked with the district compiling the data believe future Bethlehem development will shift to more town houses and senior housing, rather than new construction.
"One would expect the source of our enrollment will be a turnover of existing homes," Loomis said.
Enrollment in the elementary schools will decrease by 13 students in the next year, while middle school enrollment will increase by 41 students. The high school enrollment is projected to decrease by 38 students, with overall high school enrollment staying between 1,700 and 1,800 over the next few years.
The projections are used by the district as a base for future enrollment and classroom size, along with individual school building capacity.
"We have planned for growth, and we do have additional space available at the middle school, high school and elementary level," said Loomis.
Warren Stoker said he has served on the school board for many years and believes the projections may not hold up.