WCSD considering a fresh look at enrollment figures

The last time Warren County School District paid for an enrollment study, the numbers guided its master facilities planning for 10 years.

But, the numbers were hard for some to swallow. They showed a steady decline in enrollment.

As it turns out, a prediction of consistent decline was on target.

The school board is talking about reconsidering and possibly modifying the master facilities plan and a new study would be a benefit, according to officials.

“If we’re serious about looking at our master facility plan… anyone who comes in to work on this is going to want to know where we’re going to be,” board President Donna Zariczny said.

“This is something that we ought to look at in our first steps,” Superintendent Amy Stewart said.

She did not recommend that the district contract with the same company, but she did not endorse using enrollment projections from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).

She said those projections are not as detailed and are generally less accurate than a private study that takes internal policies and external factors beyond live births and five-year averages. The board did not have immediate access to a PDE projection from 2006. After the 2015-2016 school year, PDE projections showed the district declining through 2021-2022, then growing again through the last year of the projection in 2025.

The DeJong study showed declining enrollment every year from 2007 through 2016 to a minimum of 4,781. It was not a popular one, Stewart said. “There was a lot of frustration.”

Despite the frustration, the school board and administration at the time moved forward using those numbers. “These were the numbers that drove the last master facilities plan process,” Stewart said.

And, the numbers turned out pretty close, she said. “I thought it would be interesting to see how spot-on the numbers were,” she said.

While the DeJong study accurately predicted consistently falling enrollment, it did not predict just how far it would fall and is consistently high district-wide.

The official 2015-2016 enrollment for the district was 4,425 while DeJong projected 4,781.

Going back, the official enrollment in 2014-2015 was 4,499. DeJong predicted 4,851. And in 2013-2014, actual enrollment was 4,574 while the projection was 4,914.

This year’s enrollment is 4308. The DeJong study did not predict to 2017.

But, the study did not stop at the district-wide enrollment.

According to enrollment data on the district’s website, over the last four years of the projection, the study was high by 154, 188, 185, and 199, in the northern attendance area — off by an average of 19 percent.

Over that same period, the study was off by: 47, 40, 60, and 26 — within 5 percent — in the west; 73, 47, 37, and 48 — just under 10 percent — in the east and; 139, 119, 164, and 108 — about 6 percent — in the central.