Wilton High School enrollment may decrease over the next decade. Here’s why

Superintendent of School Kevin Smith and Board of Education Chair Deborah Low, pictured here in a prior year’s meeting, listened to demographer Mike Zuba on projections for student enrollment over the next decade.

Superintendent of School Kevin Smith and Board of Education Chair Deborah Low, pictured here in a prior year’s meeting, listened to demographer Mike Zuba on projections for student enrollment over the next decade.

Jarret Liotta / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — The district is slated to see an increase in younger grade enrollment over the next decade while high school numbers will mostly continue to fall, one demographer told the Board of Education on Thursday.

Mike Zuba, director of planning at Milone & MacBroom, presented future estimates based on accepted and proposed housing developments in Wilton, property transfers, population shifts, birth projections and unemployment rates.

According to numbers derived from those driving factors, pre-K to second-grade enrollment is projected to grow by 7.5% over the next decade from 808 students to 870. Third-grade to fifth-grade enrollment is projected to grow by 13% over the next five years, then level off and average roughly 890 students over the latter half of the next decade. Middle school enrollment is projected to hit a low of 806 by the 2025-26 school year, followed by steady growth to 935 the end of the decade.

For high school enrollment, Zuba’s projections point to a steady decline from its current number of 1,217 until reaching a valley in the 2028-29 school year at 1,022 students, recovering slowly to 1,110 by 2031-32.

Part of the shift toward a younger demographic over the next five years, per Zuba, is the effect of the changing housing inventory of the town. In speaking with Town Planner Michael Wrinn, Zuba said “what we’re seeing is just a small number of new units for single-family.”

With a nearly $100,000 increase from 2020 in median single-family home sales, the focus is on smaller housing, he added.

“Nobody’s seeing a lot of new single-family, large-scale subdivisions,” Zuba said. “What the new developments look like moving forward is more geared towards multifamily, apartment-style housing.”

Zuba highlighted four major projects that have recently been approved by the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission — 173 units at 141 Danbury Road, 74 units at 300 Danbury Road, 26 units at 200 Danbury Road and 17 units at 2 Hollyhock Road.

Altogether, the four projects account for 290 units, which Zuba estimates will yield 64 new district students. As construction for most of the projects has yet to begin, the demongrapher estimates those new student allotment to be phased in “over about six to seven years.”

BOE Chair Deborah Low asked what components make up the formula to estimate the number of students resulting from a particular multifamily building project. Zuba explained that he used bedroom splits, pricepoints and type of unit to factor into his math.

In the housing market overall, Zuba pointed to high rates of housing turnover in Wilton and Fairfield County. For the last two years, Wilton housing sales “have been up for both the single family, as well as condos,” Zuba explained. Accompanied by a slightly decreasing unemployment rate since the onset of the pandemic, he believes this could be indicative of a change.

“What we’re seeing is that the housing market is at a level that it hasn’t been at,” and is “mirroring that of 2004,” which Zuba estimates will have a large impact on population growth and, in turn, student population growth.

Additionally, Zuba pointed out new-to-district students have increased through what he refers to as “student migration” from other districts as families move in to Wilton.

The district saw a major uptick this school year, with nearly 300 students constituting “new-to-district” status, compared to the previous three-year average of 186.

Consistent with his projections, Zuba explained the greatest increase in this category came from students ranging from first to fifth grade. Sixth grade to high school trends have been on par with recent averages.