Ledyard says advertising important to counter declining enrollment
With the population of school age students projected to decline steeply in town over the next 10 years, regional competition for students is important for maintaining a school’s enrollment. Regional choice, including magnet schools, can hurt Ledyard’s enrollment, while the agriscience program, cooperative agreements with other districts and advertising can make Ledyard an option for area students, said Superintendent of Schools Cathy Patterson.
Between 2010 and 2015, Connecticut's population of school-aged children decreased by 3.46 percent, the sixth highest rate in the nation, according to data from the U.S. Census. By 2025, the student population in Connecticut is projected to decline by nearly 10 percent to 631,241 students, according to data from the Connecticut State Data Center.
Experts link decreasing student enrollment to a variety of factors, from a decline in the state’s birth rate, as people have fewer children and have them later, to people leaving the state for job opportunities.
Enrollment predictions by the state show the population of school-age children in Ledyard declining from 3,171 to 2,395 over the next nine years, meaning roughly one in four of the seats in Ledyard schools could go unfilled.
Ledyard recently came to such an agreement with Norwich Public Schools, which would allow up to 40 high school students in Norwich to attend Ledyard High School. Norwich is one of the only districts in southern New London County that will have an increase in the school age population over the next 10 years.
“Voluntary cooperatives like the one between Norwich and Ledyard are a great way to start,” she said.
Over the past ten years, the budget has risen from $25,615,979 in the 2005 to 2006 academic year to a proposed $31,895,333, however over that same period the number of teachers has declined from 211 teachers to 207. In the past, the district has cut teachers and materials as class sizes shrank, Patterson said.
Ledyard administrators have planned for declining enrollment in town for years. The town’s projects to renovate Gallup Hill elementary school and the middle school also involve downsizing: specifically closing Ledyard Center School and expanding Gallup Hill to accommodate the additional students. In their decision, they cited the costs of maintaining the old and costly building, which is more than 60 years old.
Enrollment in elementary school classes has actually been up, leading Patterson to request three new elementary school teachers for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, citing large class sizes.
School space is already being used for a variety of different programs: the district houses a medically fragile class run by LEARN, a regional education service center based in Old Lyme.
Patterson said she is also excited about the possibility of regionalizing special education services; a topic that has been discussed at the state association of superintendents along with LEARN.
The agriscience program in Ledyard has always been a draw for out-of-district students, and the district has created an advertising budget and taken out advertisements including The Day to highlight the curriculum and available programs at Ledyard High School.
“It’s the new environment,” Patterson said about advertising at a joint meeting of the town council’s finance committee and the Board of Education in Dec. She noted that the district has moved presentations about Ledyard’s school system down to fifth grade students after discovering that many students make school choice decisions in middle school. The high school also has a marketing committee.
“It doesn’t cost a whole lot of money, but if that one student comes in and brings the dollar in, you’re probably paying for it with one kid,” Councilor Fred Allyn III noted at the same meeting.
Editor's Note: This corrects an earlier version.
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