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Montville school district studying how to handle declining enrollment

Montville officials are trying to make the best of a sharp decline in student enrollment over the past decade.

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 is projected to decline by nearly 10 percent to 631,241 students, according to 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.

The number of students entering Montville schools each September has decreased since the 2005-2006 school year.

In Montville, that has meant fewer teachers, re-purposed classrooms and publicity efforts to convince parents to stay in the district.

“It’s certainly something that we discuss and work on,” said Assistant Superintendent Laurie Pallin.

In Superintendent Brian Leveque’s budget report this year, he projected that the 1,006 students enrolled in the district’s three elementary schools would go down by 23 students next year.

Levesque projected the school population at Leonard J. Tyl Middle School will stay the same, and the high school’s population will go up by five. Palmer Academy, Montville’s alternative high school, is projected to lose two students next year.

“You do definitely see a decline over time, from almost 3,000 to closer to 2,000 students,” Pallin said.

The district had 2,916 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2005-2006 school year. That number went down to 2,207 this school year, and Levesque predicts it will continue to shrink

That decline has meant the district has cut 28 teaching positions since the 2005-2006.

That number would be higher if the district hadn’t started offering full-day kindergarten, which kept some jobs in place, she said.

The shrinking enrollment has had an impact on the district’s budget, which has increased each year since 2005, but largely because of increasing special education costs and tuition for out-of-district placements.

The district’s budget was $31.8 million in the 2005-2006 year and $37.6 million this year.

The superintendent’s budget proposal for next year includes a 1.9 percent increase from last year — despite the proposed elimination of four teaching positions.

“Over the long term we’ll probably need to lose additional teachers,” Pallin said.

A committee of Montville teachers and administrators began examining trends in school enrollment in the district this year, Pallin said.

“We have thrown out every possible solution,” she said.

The district’s six schools have had to adapt to the lower numbers of students.

Classrooms that were once filled with students all day are now being repurposed for group meeting rooms or classrooms dedicated to English Language Learning classes.

“We’ve been able to use those rooms, they are not sitting empty,” Pallin said.

And the district won’t see dramatic changes any time soon. Class sizes are remaining steady as teachers get moved around, and students continue to get the same quality of education they did before, Pallin said.

“Our students are getting the best service that we can provide,” she said. “We’re holding steady.”

District officials have tried traditional methods — like parent nights for eighth-graders who might be considering leaving the district for high school — and new efforts like promotional videos and a survey of parents whose children have left the district.

“It’s a new thing for schools to be in the business of marketing themselves, but one that we need to take seriously,” Pallin said.


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