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Declining Enrollment Projected for Most West Hartford Schools

A long-term decline is expected to continue for the next 10 years.

An average decline of 66 students per year enrolled in West Hartford Public Schools is expected over the next 10 years, according to a presentation delivered by Director of Finance and Planning Chip Ward to the Board of Education on Tuesday night.

In the executive summary to his annual "Multi-Year Enrollment Projections," Ward projected that the district-wide enrollment would drop by 103 students between Oct. 1, 2012 and Oct. 1, 2013. Currently, there are 9,817 students enrolled in the district in grades K-12.

Ward projects a decline over the next 10 years to 9,151 students, continuing a trend that accompanies the decline in births since 2001. His analysis and projections are based on "cohort-survival methodology," which compares the number of students at a grade level in one year to the number of students in the previous grade level the prior year.

Although Ward said in his report that the district has "adequate space at all school levels throughout the forecast period," there is a projected shortfall in available space at two of the town's elementary schools over the next several years.

Bugbee Elementary School, which currently has 443 students, is forecast to increase in population to a high of 472 students in the 2014-2015 school year. There are currently 21 classrooms in use and projections indicate a need for 23 classrooms for several years before enrollment is projected to drop again.

Ward said he anticipates that space needs at Bugbee can be met with the use of "swing space" for smaller classrooms.

At Webster Hill Elementary School, where the current student body of 473 is projected to grow each year and peak at 534 is 2017-2018, capacity is of greater concern.

"Having more than 520 students is something that school cannot handle," Ward said. Webster Hill was renovated several years ago, and there are limited options. Currently there are a total of six sections in grades 4 and 5, but 17 in grades K-3. There are five kindergarten classrooms this year.

Ward statement that he is "as certain as I can be that we will need an additional classroom next year at Webster Hill," caused concern among board members.

In response to a question by Elin Katz about available options, Ward said they are now being explored, and that he plans to report back to the board within a few months with recommendations.

The entire Multi-Year Projection Report can be found here under Staff Reports and Board Discussions.

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