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The future: a look at enrollment and what it means



An enrollment study conducted for the Skaneateles School District and released this week confirms what yearly enrollment figures have suggested: in general, the school-aged population in Skaneateles is declining. The study also predicts that recent trends will continue into the foreseeable future, and will eventually level off.
Interestingly, the decline here mirrors the decline throughout most of Central New York, and it also reflects a trend throughout the country, consultant Edward P. Caffarella said during a meeting with the district’s Strategic Planning Advisory Committee on Wednesday, January 6.
“What you are experiencing, virtually every school district in Central New York is experiencing,” Caffarella told the committee, adding that there is similar declining enrollment throughout the whole north east. “Enrollment is growing only in the metro New York City area,” he said.
While not offering any surprises, the study does give the district’s administrators, board members and Strategic Planning Advisory Committee members much to work with as they consider how to best plan for the future.  The goal, always, is to maintain and strengthen the district’s academic and extracurricular programs while providing strong responsible stewardship for taxpayers and the community.
“It confirms what we suspected and it is an intriguing data point,” said Superintendent Ken Slentz.  It also should not be cause for alarm, he said. “We need to remember this is one data point, albeit a critical one.”
While the elaborate projection methods used are reliable – the consultant said he can predict out one year with 98 percent accuracy and three or four years with a degree of comfort – they cannot accurately predict beyond three years and they cannot predict the unknown.
“Right now, this is a projection. We must prepare, but remain flexible,” Slentz said.
With current enrollment figures, for example, the district expected 74 kindergartners this fall. Surprisingly, there were 91. Will that new trend continue?
Here are some general enrollment details: In the 2010-11 school year, total enrollment was 1,627; this year (2015-16) it is 1,404. Caffarella projects that number to fall to 1,243 by the year 2018-19.  When asked if the decline would continue well into the future, he said no.  Like the rest of the region and the rest of the country, that number will likely level off. Exactly when and where it will level off is an unknown, because there are just too many factors involved to predict accurately beyond three or four years.
What’s next?
The Board of Education, administration, Strategic Planning Committee, and consultants will work to make sense of these numbers relative to course, co-curricular club, and extracurricular opportunities; facility use; staffing; and the District's budget in general. “This will require a great deal of thought, and a clear focus on how to best provide for our students' readiness within the confines of the taxpaying community,” said Superintendent Ken Slentz.
The district has released a letter (see below) to the community outlining the work of the Strategic Planning Committee. It also will post a one-page document with answers to the most commonly expected questions.

THE LETTER
 
January 8, 2016
 
Dear Skaneateles community member, 
 
Happy New Year. As we look forward to the second half of the school year, we also are busy planning for next year – and for the many years beyond that. As stewards of Skaneateles Schools, one of our most important charges is to work on a long-range plan that will allow us to provide the best education possible for future students while being most responsible to our shareholders, taxpayers and community members.
 
The School Board’s special Strategic Planning Advisory Committee has been meeting for more than a year with that in mind. This is one of six citizen advisory committees established to increase input from members of our community, including parents and residents without children in the District. In addition to the three of us who serve as the standing Board of Education committee members, a real estate agent and a local architect are just two of the talented and diverse group of residents on the Strategic Planning Advisory Committee, which includes BOE members Susan Murphy and Julie Abbott-Kenan as well as myself, Margaret Usdansky Niebuhr.  Below are a few key points we’d like you to know about our strategic planning process:
 
Goals: Members of the Board and the Committee are dedicated to finding a balance that will allow us to continue to strengthen the district's academic and extracurricular programs, promote wellness and opportunity for every student, and provide strong, responsible stewardship for taxpayers and the community.
 
Challenges: Our charge includes upkeep and improvement of infrastructure as well as program during a time of declining enrollment.  We must continue to provide excellent opportunities for our students without over-burdening our taxpayers. This means preparing our students for the changing needs of society and the workforce. And, just as our students need to be nimble in their skills, we need to be nimble in our strategic planning.
 
Process: Expert planning consultants hired by the Board guide the work of the Committee. The strategic planning process includes studies of our own District enrollment, program offerings, facilities and staffing, as well as those of five similar districts, to see what we can learn from their outcomes and plans. This week, the committee heard preliminary reports from the consultants and District architects on enrollment and facilities. As anticipated, the consultants predict continued decline in the size of our student population, mirroring trends nationwide. Overall, our buildings have been well maintained. The building condition survey highlights areas that now need our attention as well as optional improvements we may postpone or set aside. Like any home, our school buildings need proactive care to allow us to keep costs predictable and minimize the unexpected. 
 
Timetable: The consultants are collaborating with administrators and the Committee to complete their work and provide results to the Board by the end of this school year. But it would not be prudent to rush, and we will not do so. District administrators, the Committee and Board will devote time to reviewing this information carefully and evaluating next steps during 2015-16 and 2016-17. While we will explore options for taking advantage of our building spaces in the interim, large changes are unlikely to occur before the 2017-18 school year.
 
Learning more: Keeping you well informed of our strategic planning is a priority for the Board and the Committee. All our Committee and Board meetings are public, and we invite you to attend, to visit our website, www.skanschools.org, and to contact Board and Committee members, whose names are listed there.
 
We are grateful to our Committee members for their time and valuable input and to you for your interest in our School District. We invite you to partner with us in shaping its future.
 
Sincerely,
 
Margaret Usdansky Niebuhr
Susan Murphy
Julie Abbott-Kenan
Strategic Planning Advisory Committee
Skaneateles Board of Education
 
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Superintendent:
Kenneth G. Slentz
 
Phone:
315-291-2221
 
Address:
45 East Elizabeth Street
Skaneateles, NY 13152