While the Derry Cooperative School District has faced a declining population, two staff members of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association warn that new construction and a reviving economy could bring development in town – and a corresponding school population more in line with pre-recession demographics.
Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, and his colleague Keith Burke presented the findings of a Demographic Analysis and Enrollment Projections at the March 1 School Board meeting.
The School District has faced declining birth rates and enrollment for its seven schools and for the semi-private Pinkerton Academy, its high school of record, for several years. Some community members have advocated for closing at least one school building to reflect the changes. Joyce and his team were commissioned to do a previous study on district facilities, and in November of this past year he and Burke were commissioned to do the demographic study.
Running the numbers
The profile of the district and town included the following:
• Derry’s population in 2013 was estimated at 33,211, declining by 900 since 2000. However, Joyce and Burke wrote, the town is still the fourth-largest municipality in the state.
• The district’s Kindergarten-Grade 12 enrollment, including its seven schools and Pinkerton, has declined over the period from 2007 to 2013, with a net loss of 821 students or 13 percent.
• During that same period, the percent of Derry’s population that was of school age declined from 18.33 percent in 2007 to 16.30 percent in 2013.
• The number of births also declined, from a high of 438 in 2004 to a low of 342 in 2011. Joyce and Burke wrote that this and the above points “would appear to forecast a slowly declining elementary student population in the foreseeable future.”
However, talks with Town Planning Director George Sioras point to a rebound in housing. Joyce and Burke wrote, “In discussions with the town planning office, records show that in recent years there has been an increase in permits for all types of housing at a level that approaches the pre-2008 level, possibly signaling a stronger rebound in new construction.”
According to a graph in the report, 87 building permits for single-family homes were issued in 2000. The number declined to 29 in 2008, 10 in 2009, and 11 in 2010. But 18 permits were issued in 2011, 19 in 2012, and 37 in 2013.
A 2006 study quoted by Joyce and Burke estimated that each residential new house added an average of .45 students to enrollment.
Joyce said, “While the economy is not fully recovered, there are indications that it is recovering and is more vigorous.”
Derry’s declining enrollment mirrors the state, with a drop from 203,072 in 2001-02 to 188,595 in 2010-11.
Joyce said he used the Oct. 1 enrollment data for projections. “That is the most stable,” he said. “There is an uncertainty on opening day. People have moved in and not registered yet, or people have moved and not told the school. By Oct. 1, things have settled down.”
Oct. 1 has also been the state reporting standard for 40 years, Joyce said.
Joyce and Burke used 2013 as a measuring stick because that’s as far as the comparable data from the state Planning Office goes, they said.
They both have been in the education business for 40 years, and over those 40 years they have seen some general trends. Joyce said, “For the first 20 years, 25 percent of the state’s population was K-12. The baby boomers were having children, and they were having bigger families.” There was also a “steady pattern of in-migration” to New Hampshire.
That trend has changed, Joyce said.
Burke said the team uses three different methods to predict enrollment: the five-year average, one year to the next year, and the three-year weighted average model.
“With all the data on Derry, the three-year weighted model seemed the best,” he said. The method is based on historical birth and enrollment data, the number of births, the history of building permits and the changes in population. The three-year weighted model shows the K-12 student enrollment continuing to decline steadily over the next five to 10 years.
A K-12 enrollment of 5,059 is predicted for the upcoming school year, a drop of 126 or 2.97 percent below 2015-16. The numbers are projected at 4,972 for 2017-18; 4,902 for 2018-19; 4,863 for 2019-20; 4,808 for 2020-21; 4,767 for 2021-22; 4,728 for 2022-23; 4,688 for 2023-24; 4,640 for 2024-25; and 4,580 for 2025-26.
But Joyce warned the board, “As we move back to pre-2008 levels of growth, we may see this reversed and recover some of the student enrollment.”
Board chair Dan McKenna said, “The last time you were here, we discussed Exit 4A. Is that being considered for this study?”
Joyce said it was not. “We do watch that, and Hooksett, Derry and Londonderry are all waiting for the impact,” Joyce said, adding that he and Burke had spoken with the planners in all three towns. “They said they won’t see the full impact of that until the widening of I-93 is completed,” he said.
But, he said, planners in all three towns are seeing activity that “reminds them of pre-2008.”
Board member Brenda Willis observed that in the last meeting, Superintendent Laura Nelson gave projections for 2016-17. She had 230 more students projected in kindergarten and first grade, and an overall 286 more in K-5 than last year. “Is this an anomaly?” she asked.
Not necessarily, Joyce replied. But he urged the district to wait until Oct. 1 for a final tally. “We are naturally suspicious of any projected enrollment,” he said. “That’s why we rely on Oct. 1.” While enrollment will be “volatile” till that point, he said he and Burke would provide an update after Oct. 1.
“It is a daunting process,” Burke said.
Looking to the future
Nelson said the results of the Joyce-Burke study will be posted on the district Web site at www.sau10.org.
In addition, the Facilities Study Committee will present a draft report to the School Board, followed by a final report in May.