There’s a lot of information to chew on when it comes to looking at the latest enrollment projections for Bethlehem Central, and it’s not what you’d expect for one of the best public schools in the state.
An outstanding public school district drives real estate sales. Homeowners of recent past understand this rule. Many of whom were then newlyweds looking to start families, and were planning ahead to enroll children into a good school. Bethlehem Central was the deciding factor. And, though the school’s caliber of excellence has not diminished, the Capital District Regional Planning Commission again sees less children coming to the school district.
The number of kids enrolled at BCSD is at its lowest in two decades, and if projections hold up, we’ll see nearly 9 percent fewer children walking within those halls. Assuming 21 students in each classroom, the average claimed by the district, that’s a reduction of 18 total classes.
It’s not exclusive to Bethlehem. New York state is projected to see public enrollment decrease by 1 percent, and that’s better than all of New England and most of the Northeast corridor. Despite national figures that see a 3 percent increase, Massachusetts and Rhode Island will go down 4 and 5 percent, respectively. Vermont and New Hampshire will see more drastic decreases of 10 and 14 percent. Maine public schools see a decrease of 12 percent, and Connecticut will see the worst of it, 14 percent, by 2022.
Housing trends don’t appear to be following tradition. When BCSD Superintendent Judy Monroe speaks before her school board, she’s going to share with them that, yes, there are new residential developments coming into town. However, far less of them are single family homes. Townhouses and multi-family units suggest child-free households. This defies what real estate forecasters believed to be a recent exodus to urban apartment living for empty-nesters and young professionals who wanted to live, work and play in our downtown cities.
Bethlehem has long fought the stigma of being called a “bedroom community” for Albany professionals, and these planned residential units don’t suggest any allies coming in to help fight off that perception. We certainly hope developers — and those residents they envision bringing into our community — will be as invested in our neighborhoods as they are with the dollars and cents they hope to earn with their real estate transactions. As local government promises to look at the town’s comprehensive plan, it appears that needs to be done sooner rather than later.
Our town is not a short sell. It’s a long-term investment.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.