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Monday, December 01, 2014

Flat Enrollment Projected Amid Multi-Family Housing Worries

A demographic specialist told the Westport Board of Education tonight to expect little change in school enrollment in the near future.

But First Selectman Jim Marpe and other elected officials said proposed multi-family housing in Westport could radically change the outlook in three to five years.

“The projection for the future is fairly flat,” said Donald G. Kennedy of Marlborough, Mass-based New England School Development Council (NESDC).

He said increases in grades 6 through 12 are offset by declines in elementary grades. At the same time, he noted a decline in births has been accompanied by a record number of “move-ins” in recent years.

Kennedy projected a net 169 “move-ins” for next fall, mostly impacting middle and high schools. “More people are moving in with children a little older than kindergarten,” he said.

He predicted a kindergarten enrollment of 361 compared to 343 this year.

Kennedy said Westport had an unusually low number of students not attending public schools -– 481 or about 8 percent.

“A lull is a good description of what’s happening right now in Westport,” Kennedy said. “And it may be the calm before the storm of additional residents coming in.”

Both Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon and Board of Finance members, who attended the session, pressed Kennedy for formulas that would help project what impact new multi-family housing units now planned or under discussion would have on enrollment.

Marpe told the meeting that the impact of multi-family housing units on the town’s infrastructure was something that keeps him up at night.

“Frankly, we’re looking at multi-unit developments that could add up to somewhere between 600 and 700 units,” he said. “Three to five years is the horizon you ought to be considering on the larger units but smaller 40- or 50-unit developments are going to be upon us fairly quickly.”

Following the enrollment discussion, Board of Education and Board of Finance members began their annual round of budget talks.

“We want you guys to be wildly successful because it makes our life easy,” said John Pincavage, Board of Finance chair. He added, “It builds confidence among all citizens of the town.”

Confidence was also on the mind of Board of Finance member Jennifer Tooker, who previously served on the Board of Education.

But her thoughts were on the failure of the school system to notify the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) of internal transfers used to pay for maintenance cost overruns at Kings Highway Elementary School.

“The confidence has been shaken in the last year,” Tooker said. “And so that’s the question -– how do we regain confidence in the budget process?  What does that fiscal oversight and transparency look like today versus a year ago?”

Board of Finance member Janis Collins also referred to the issue.

“In the last six to nine months, we’ve learned that maybe we could have done a better job -– the Board of Ed and the superintendent—in financially managing certain categories,” she said. “Some of the transparency wasn’t there at the level we really needed it.”

Added Board of Finance member Tom Lasersohn: “Some people’s confidence in transparency has been shaken.”

Pincavage read comments from member Brian Stern, who said a family commitment prevented his attendance.

“Westport is on a path that is unsustainable,” Stern said, a theme he has voiced before. “This is not a crisis yet, but obviously we cannot continue to increase our budget by close to three times the rate of inflation.

“At some point in the future, there will be a crisis and our children will suffer.” He said the Board of Education must address labor and benefit costs.

Stern was the only Board of Finance member who put a number on an expected education budget increase, saying he looked for a number between 2.5 and 2.9 percent.


Posted 12/01/14 at 11:31 PM  Permalink


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