Declining student enrollment projected over next eight years

Overall student enrollment is projected to decline in the Wilton school district over the next eight years, with the most dramatic decline projected to occur in the first five years, according to Milone & MacBroom’s Wilton Comprehensive School Enrollment Analysis and Projections report.
According to the report, over the eight-year window, kindergarten through second grade enrollment is projected to decline between 5.3% and 8.5%, while third through fifth grade enrollment is projected to decline between 23.1% and 25.9%.
Sixth through eighth grade enrollment is expected to decline sharply, according to the report, which projects declines between 16.2% and 20.8% by the end of the eight-year window.
Enrollment declines at the high school level “are not projected to materialize for the next few years, but a drop-off in enrollments is expected to occur beginning around 2018-19.”
Over the eight-year period, total declines projected in Milone & MacBroom’s report range from 8.8% to 14.8%.
Using three sets of projections, based on varying economic, birth and persistency ratio assumptions, Milone & MacBroom summarized enrollment projections for the 2016-17 school year, as well as over the next three years.

Next year

  • Grades K-2: 2.8% decrease, with smaller expected kindergarten and second grade cohorts.

  • Grades 3-5: 0.2% increase.

  • Grades 6-8: 3.0% decrease, with a smaller incoming sixth-grade class.

  • Grades 9-12: 0.3% decrease.

Three years out

  • Grades K-2: 9.5% decrease, as several years of historically low births enter.

  • Grades 3-5: 9.1% decrease, with smaller existing cohorts progressing through.

  • Grades 6-8: 5.3% decrease, as small current fifth grade cohort progresses through.

  • Grades 9-12: 1.1% decrease.

Milone & MacBroom examined factors that influence school enrollments, including demographic, birth, housing development, and real estate trends, as well as private school enrollments, which have been “very stable,” according to the report.
The report identified the following trends:

  • Grades K-2: A steady decline of about 28 students per year since the 2007-08 school year.

  • Grades 3-5: A very steady enrollment, with downward fluctuations in the past few years.

  • Grades 6-8: Still at peak of steady rise over past decade.

  • Grades 9-12: Enrollments have continued to increase and are currently at a historic peak after a brief decline in 2010-11.

Population trends

According to the report, “the Great Recession sparked a sharp decrease in fertility rates from 2007 to 2011 to reach all-time lows, which have not yet recovered.”
From 2000 to 2010, Wilton’s total population increased approximately 2.4% — from 17,633 to 18,062, according to the report, which noted the town’s population growth was slower than its housing growth, which increased 5.9%.
The population change was experienced unevenly across different age groups, according to the report, which noted a 12.5% increase in the school-age population and a 23.6% decrease in the number of children under 5 years of age.
“Coinciding with this trend was a broad decline in the adult population between 30 and 44 years of age, corresponding to a cohort likely to have young children,” according to the report.
Annual births in Wilton have been declining since 2000 and the birth rate experienced a “double-dip decline” in 2004 and post-recession.
However, the report also noted a “recent Fairfield County phenomenon” — a rising birth-K ratio, which has increased by 14% to its current 1.79 level in Wilton since 2011-12. According to the report, this is a “strong indication of families moving in with children ready to enter school.”
While the average household size in Wilton decreased between 2000 and 2010, the number of households increased by 4.2%.
According to the report, this increase is “overwhelmingly driven by single-person households,” which saw a 20.5% increase. The town also experienced a 50% increase in the number of residents 65 years or older.
The report also noted a “significant shift toward more families with school-age children only,” which increased 16.4%, and fewer with young children under 6 years of age, which decreased 32.9%.

Housing trends

Housing sales influence Wilton’s student enrollment, the report says, since incoming enrollments are “increasingly not the result of births in the community.”
Since 2010, housing sales in Wilton have been rising more quickly than the Fairfield County average, “creating [a] larger source of potential enrollment in-migration,” according to the report.”

Economic trends

In November 2014, local unemployment was estimated at 4.5%, according to the report, and the “decline in enrollments observed since 2008 corresponds to historically high unemployment.”
Although the economy has been recovering, the report says, the town is experiencing a “lagged effect,” as the recovery “has not yet resulted in increased enrollments.”