NEW ROCHELLE, NY — In April 2021, we published the first in a series of detailed analysis by Robert Cox and Andrew Newman of what we characterized as a “catastrophic collapse” of student enrollment in City School District of New Rochelle schools.
A preview of 2022 data, presented last week by a demographer from Western Suffolk BOCES to the New Rochelle Board of Education shows, as we predicted, the downward trend has accelerated, as it has done every year since the baseline study year of 2015 published in 2017. The full report is expected to be released by March 2022.
What we wrote 9 months ago remains true:
The implication of these collapsing enrollment numbers are profound and require measures be taken now to plan for a student population that is projected to be nearly 20% lower than initial projections, from a projected peak of 10,996 in 2019 in the 2015 study to a projected trough of 8,972 in 2030 in the 2020-21 update, a drop of 2,024 students or 18.4%.
This will require a discussion of reduction in headcount among employees of the City School District of New Rochelle, and identifying new sources of revenue to make up for less money coming in through sources like state aid formulas and federal funds like Title I funding.
An even more difficult discussion will be the issue of the Perception of Quality issue suggested by the data which shows an acceleration in the rate of decline in the Western Suffolk BOCES projections which indicate there is some factor outside the Cohort Survival Model which only looks at the normal community processes that affect school enrollment measured by hard data such as births and fertility rates, community migration, enrollment in non-public and charter school, population variations, and resident family characteristics — and ignores soft data like why some public school parents are pulling their children out of the public school system after 8th grade, and other factors.
The trend, improbably bouncing along at the bottom of the 4% margin range every year, is worse — that by 2030 student enrollment will be below 8,000 students (a decline of over 25% from the peak in 2015).
It also remains true that school board members seem determined to put their heads in the sand. Their public questions and statements over the past year continue to amount to “wishing and hoping” that somehow the data is in error. They have questioned whether the data takes into account downtown development (it does), immigration (it does), the impact of the pandemic (it does) or whether Western Suffolk BOCES is a reliable source (they are).
We will have more on this disaster once the full report is released to the public but if there are any board members interested to accept reality and start asking productive questions we have a few suggestions:
For Western Suffolk BOCES
Why should the district place a high degree of confidence in student enrollment projections made by Western Suffolk BOCES?
Who are your peers/competitors, in both the public and private sectors, and should the district seek a second opinion on student enrollment projections?
Does the decline in student population in New Rochelle mirror declines elsewhere in Westchester, the Hudson Valley Region, New York State? Is it the same, higher or lower?
If the decline in student population in New Rochelle is faster/steeper than comparable districts in the state (which appears to be the case) what localized factors might explain the difference in rate of decline?
Western Suffolk BOCES enrollment projections for New Rochelle are always at the low end of the 4% margin of error, why? Should the actual numbers randomly move within the margin of error not always be at the bottom of the range?
If the trend of hitting the low end of the Western Suffolk BOCES range each year continues, what would the projected student enrollment be in 2030?
Does Western Suffolk BOCES project student populations by socio-economic factors? Is the student population of New Rochelle becoming more or less upper income or lower income?
For New Rochelle School Administration
What are the implications of Western Suffolk BOCES enrollment projections on the District’s current 5 year plan?
What are the implications of Western Suffolk BOCES enrollment projections on the 2022-2023 school budget?
What are the implications on local property taxes, near term (2022-23) and out to 2030?
With a roughly 10% actual decline in student population since the peak in 2015 — and a projected decline from the peak of 26% out to 2030 (10,800 in 2015 to 8,000 in 2030), are you contemplating staff count reduction between now and 2030, if so how would that occur —job attrition (fewer positions eliminated for highly paid employees) or pink slips (more positions eliminated for lower paid employees)?
What has been (2015 – 2021) and will be (2022 – 2030) the impact on Foundation Aid? For purposes of planning, what would a straight line projection be of Foundation Aid based on the projected student enrollment out to 2030?
What positions are mandated (special education, physical education, school nurses, etc.)?
If positions overall are declining and the District cannot eliminate mandated positions, what positions will be reduced in different departments (social studies, english, math) different grades (pre-K to 5, 6 to 8, 9 to 12, other)? different schools?
What has been (2015 – 2021) and will be (2022 – 2030) the impact on Transportation Aid? For purposes of planning, what would a straight line projection be of Transportation Aid based on the projected student enrollment out to 2030?
What is the implication for food services?
What is the implication for the ESSA consolidated grants Title I, II, III and IV?
What are the implications for other State Aid and Federal Aid?
How will any gaps in State and/or Federal Aid be closed — increased revenue (i.e., local property taxes, fees, etc.) or decreased expenses (i.e, FTE reduction, program elimination, etc.)?
What are the implications of Western Suffolk BOCES enrollment projections on the District’s current 5 year facilities plan?
If buildings are to be closed, is there a plan to redistrict and/or consolidate districts— a highly contentious, long term effort involving a high degree of community input? Will schools be closed (mothballed, leased, sold)? Will you hedge in case the downward trends in student enrollment flattens or is reversed? (see, “What About Barnard?”)
How will decisions be made on closing schools and/or consolidating districts? Is there a grand plan? Who is in charge of that plan? Is there a retrenchment committee and who is on it?
Will repairs identified in the ongoing 2022 Building Condition Survey be made to schools that will be closed?
If we come up with other questions we will add them.
OPEN LETTER: New Rochelle Board of Education
Past time to deal with the reality of collapse in student enrollment
Since Western Suffolk BOCES began providing student enrollment projections in 2017, I have heard mostly silence or magical thinking from school board members on the collapse in student enrollment.
It is shocking, disturbing and — most importantly— a dereliction of duty for a school board member to out their heads in the sand.
Questions and comments over the past few years are mostly about why the data might be wrong (immigration, development, COVID, etc.).
I have yet to hear a sustained, meaningful discussion at the board level predicated on the WSBOCES projections being accurate.
The link above contains a link to a detailed analysis from 2021 and a set of questions at the bottom that any of you might consider asking when Nancy Fischetti next presents.
The WSBOCES have been accurate to date. You are dealing with a 9.6% decline in student enrollment from the 2015 peak and by 2030 a 26% decline off the 2015. I cannot tell if its that none of you understand how dire the situation is for the district or do not care — and are happy to drive off the cliff together — but the list of questions I have linked above should be a starting point for an energetic response from any board member interested to act on the slow motion train wreck that is student enrollment. You are past time running out. It has been happening for more than 5 years.
Feel free to call with any question about the article I have published or the questions linked above.