BETHLEHEM — Student enrollment is expected to go down in the Bethlehem Central School District next year, and further down in the near future.
The Capital District Regional Planning Commission (CDRPC) estimates the district will see a 2.1 percent downturn in enrollment next school year and an overall decline of 8.5 percent by 2022-23. The 4,518 students currently enrolled at Bethlehem Central is the lowest number in 20 years.
BCSD Superintendent Jody Monroe is to present the commission’s findings to the Board of Education on Wednesday, Feb. 7 as part of her State of the Schools address.
The commission’s projections contrast with those of national figures predicting an overall increase in public school enrollment in prekindergarten through grade 12.
The National Center for Education Statistics estimates a 3 percent increase in overall enrollment from fall 2014 to fall 2026. However, that increase includes a 42 percent increase in District of Columbia, and a 14 percent decrease in Connecticut. That report, released last May, projected a 1 percent overall decrease in New York state.
This is the second consecutive year the Albany-based commission has compiled school enrollment projections for BCSD.
The commission used district enrollment trends, generational patterns, birth rates, housing stock and residential development to calculate its findings. According to BCSD, the commission’s enrollment projections for the 2017-18 school year were off by just two-tenths of one percent of actual figures.
“Enrollment data is critical to the district’s long- and short-term decision making,” said Monroe. “Demographics and housing stock fluctuations can make some changes to enrollment hard to anticipate, however, we feel confident that by employing the services of the experts at CDRPC and staying in constant contact with local planning officials, we are working with the most accurate forecasts possible.”
District enrollment peaked in 2006-07 at 5,182 students.
In making the enrollment projections, CDRPC staff examined the following:
•Historical enrollment trends since
the 1990-91 school year;
•District grade-to-grade survival
multiplier calculated from the
enrollment data in 5, 10, and
•Annual school district birth data
•District-wide housing data including
total count, and types of homes;
•Residential building permit issuances
from the towns of Bethlehem,
and New Scotland;
•Existing home sales; and
•Anticipated new residential building
activity in the District.
But, what about new
The report cited approved and proposed residential developments in the Town of Bethlehem as “an area to watch closely moving forward,” noting it was not clear how quickly units will be constructed. The CDRPC projections were calculated based on the assumption proposed developments will not be constructed in the near future.
In Town Supervisor David Van Luven’s State of the Town address earlier this month, he cited approximately 1,200 approved or proposed new housing units townwide. Monroe said of those homes, 847 are within district. She also said a majority of the planned residential growth is from multi-family units and town houses, suggesting a decreased likelihood that growing families are driving the development trend.
Of the units located in the Bethlehem school district, 170 are single-family homes and 92 townhomes that have been approved or are in the construction phase. The 585 units that have been proposed or are under Planning Board review include 264 single-family homes, 108 townhomes, and 213 multi-family units.
“The district monitors the pace of residential development year-round in consultation with town officials. The information we look at helps paint a fuller picture of the data included in the CDRPC report,” said Monroe.
Key findings from the CDRPC report
•Total enrollment has been on the
decline for most of the last ten years.
After peaking in 2006-07, enrollment
in 2017-18 declined 12.8 percent to
its lowest level in the last 20 years.
•Enrollment in the three age cohorts (K-5, 6-8, and 9-12) has declined
across the board. While there is no
indication that declines are slowing,
there is evidence to show that declines
in 9-12 will become more pronounced.
•Enrollment is experiencing a
generational shift. The final millennials
are projected to graduate within a
handful of years. This will leave
BCSD with only children of
Generation Z attending, a generation
significantly smaller than millennials.
•Birth rates continue a slow, but steady
decline. In 2002, the district had
almost 300 births, but that declined to
198 in 2015. With women waiting
longer to have children, and averaging
fewer children in their lifetime, it is
unclear when the district should
expect a turnaround in births.
•At least 20 residential developments
are either approved or proposed in
the district. Such a large number of
units could have a significant impact
on future enrollment; however, the
timetable for construction of these
units is not yet clear. Close monitoring
will be required to see how this
•Enrollment projections from the
2016-17 report were very accurate.
Not counting special education
students, projections for total
enrollment were off by just eight
students. Projections for the three
grade cohorts were all within 1
percent actual enrollment.
•Both total enrollment and enrollment
by grade cohort are projected to continue to decline throughout the
projection period. There are few signs
that declines will slow.
“The CDRPC projections were very much on target for 2017-18,” said Monroe. “Using these projections as a resource and keeping a close eye on residential development will help us make informed decisions on behalf of our students and the community at large.”