Enrollment Forecast Indicates Existing Space Will Handle Projected Growth

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While updated enrollment projections indicate six more years of steady increases to the Westerville City School District’s (WCSD) student population, district officials believe there is enough square footage in existing school buildings to manage the growth.

Executive Director of Business Operations Jeff LeRose presented Board of Education members with new enrollment projections during the Board’s annual mid-year retreat on Monday, June 11, 2012, at the Early Learning Center. According to the report, district enrollment will experience three years of triple-digit growth through the 2014-15 school year, followed by double-digit growth through the 2017-18 school year, before entering four years of double-digit decreases.

“Our building capacity is based upon 25 students per classroom and we also incorporate a utilization factor at the high school level,” LeRose explained. “At this time, we are not forecasting the need for additional instructional square footage.”

The enrollment report indicates that elementary enrollment peaked at 6,851 students during the 2010-11 school year. As those students make their way through the system, however, middle school enrollment will peak at 3,674 students during the 2016-17 school year and high school enrollment will peak at 5,380 students in the 2020-21 school year. Overall district enrollment, which was at 15,020 students last school year, is anticipated to peak at 15,603 students during the 2017-18 school year.

LeRose expressed confidence in these latest projections as the process used to develop this forecast is much more thorough than updates primarily based upon enrollment trend data.

“A forecast is much more detailed because it takes into account census bureau data, birth rates, death rates, and housing growth,” LeRose said. “All of these components go into the mix to determine the forecast.”

As in prior years, district enrollment also is projected to continue to grow in certain student populations.

Preschool enrollment is expected to grow slightly over the next decade from 229 students during the 2011-12 school year to 255 students in the 2021-22 school year. Existing plans to consolidate remaining preschool classrooms to the Early Learning Center will be carried out in the near future.

“This final phase of the Early Learning Center will allow better coordination of services and increased economies of scale,” said Superintendent Dr. Dan Good. “Additionally, the space that this will create in our elementary schools will help us address growing special population needs, which typically require a smaller students-to-teacher ratio and more classrooms in which to provide those services.”

Special Education enrollment is projected to grow approximately 50 students per year through the 2016-17 school year. The number of students receiving special education services has grown from 1,204 in the 2001-02 school year to 1,862 in the 2011-12 school year.

District officials attribute the special needs enrollment growth to several factors, including improved data management and integration, as well as a new state model of identifying students with special needs.

“The Response to Intervention process uses a team approach to identify and target student growth needs,” explained Good. “Whenever there is a discrepancy between performance expectations and the actual performance of the learner, specific interventions are provided. Oftentimes these successfully help close the gap, but when they don’t, additional information is collected that may lead to the identification of a disability.”

Growth of the district’s English as a Second Language student population has slowed after increasing from 278 students in the 2001-02 school year to 1,210 students last school year.

“It’s extremely difficult to project the enrollment of this segment of our student population,” LeRose said. “So much of it is based upon what’s happening in other countries that we could easily see it spike once again.”

Regarding school building capacities, the district’s elementary schools have room for 7,491 children and currently serve 6,852 students. The middle school level remains slightly over capacity, serving 3,485 students in facilities with a calculated capacity of 3,363 children. District high schools still have room for growth and are educating 4,688 young adults in facilities calculated to accommodate 5,068 students.

“I’d like to reiterate that these current building capacities primarily are based upon 25 students per classroom and current classroom usage,” Good said. “However, how and where students are able to access content is expanding.”

Good shared the example that many home-schooled students now participate in public school classes such as foreign language, advanced mathematics instruction and music. As a result, these students would only be on campus part-time.

“At the same time, we anticipate more students taking advantage of district-provided on-line content,” Good explained. “Students who enroll in these virtual and hybrid experiences may have the opportunity to build a course schedule that doesn’t require them to occupy a classroom seat every day. There also are some students who enroll in college courses that provide both the university credit and the high school credit. If the course is offered at the university, then those seats are opened in our high schools. We even have middle school students whose academics are accelerated, so some of the instruction they can take may only be available at the high schools.”

Good also reiterated that no decision has been made regarding the future use of Longfellow and Central College elementary schools. The schools will be closed next year due to budget reductions, but students will continue to receive math & science magnet programming as classrooms are consolidated into the Hanby Arts Magnet School.

“As you can see, there are many, many unique situations to consider when planning for facility utilization,” Good concluded. “Our objective is to ensure equal access to all programs in the most efficient manner possible.”