CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield school board heard the findings of an enrollment study, conducted by the Pennsylvania Economy League (PEL), for the district on Monday night.
The presentation was given by Charlie Waters, PEL senior research associate, and Susan Baker, PEL research associate, during the board’s committee meetings.
The PEL is a statewide nonpartisan organization that assists community, government and school officials with information and tools to provide effective public services.
The goal was to project enrollments in order for the board and district to make informed decisions in regards to school buildings, staffing, programs and other related matters.
As part of their study, Waters and Baker analyzed population, birth and enrollment trends, housing and related activities, etc. They also spoke with school and municipal officials.
Waters and Baker then utilized various techniques to assess a series of indicators in order to develop a model and to generate the district’s enrollment projections.
“Many of the things we are going to touch upon will come as no surprise for those of you who have watched the district closely over the years,” Waters said.
According to Waters, the district’s population was up noticeably in the 1990’s by 6 percent, and it reached 22,230 by 2000. In the 2000’s, the pattern reversed and it lost about as many as it gained.
He said the population kept with the “decline decade of the 2000’s,” as the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that it was down again between 2010 and 2016 by 2 percent.
In regards to housing, Waters said there was a slightly different pattern. He said during the period of 1990 to 2010, housing units increased from about 8,700 to almost 10,000.
He said housing increased during both decades, including by over 1,000 units in the 1990’s. However, during the most recent full decade, housing units increased by only 218.
Waters said a key finding was figures showed that 10 percent of the housing units in the district are limited to seasonal use, which really wouldn’t generate school-age children.
According to municipal officials, there were only 67 new housing units authorized for construction so far this decade. Waters noted the figures didn’t include Pine and Lawrence townships, which weren’t made available to the PEL.
Waters said officials were estimating about 239 new units over the next decade. They also noted that due to market conditions there was uncertainty as to how many would actually be built.
If all the units are constructed, he said the district was looking at housing growth of 2.4 percent in the next 10 years as compared to 11.5 percent in the 1990’s and 2.2 percent in the 2000’s.
Population, Housing and Enrollment
From 1990 to 2000, Waters said the district experienced modest population growth (6.1 percent); a much faster rise in housing units (11.5 percent); and a loss in enrollment (-9.4 percent).
From 2000 to 2010, the district had a loss in population (-5.4 percent); a very modest growth in housing (2.2 percent); and a substantial loss in enrollment (-26.1 percent).
From 2010 to 2016, Waters said the district had just a moderate decrease in population (-1.8 percent); just a slight growth in housing (0.6 percent); and a loss in enrollment (-4.6 percent).
“It’s important to note that the pattern of enrollment has kind of leveled off,” he said, “and in fact grown a bit … most of that loss in enrollment was in the early years of the current decade.”
According to Waters, the district’s future enrollments will be more dependent upon migration patterns, births, role of non-public education, etc., than it will on just population and housing units.
Birth Rate and Pupils Per Housing Unit
Waters said the district’s birth rate rose considerably from 1990 to 1991. However, 10 years later, the birth rate was much lower and that decline continued until reaching its lowest point in 2010. The births were up again though in four of the next six figures.
He said a more significant point in terms of future enrollment is the fact that five of the district’s seven lowest birth figures occurred during this decade, and some of those children haven’t yet entered the school system.
Back in 1990, he said each housing unit produced about 0.4 children. By 2000, it was down to closer to 0.3 and then just above 0.2 in 2010. Currently, he said it’s down just a little further.
Waters said that enrollment figures were from Oct. 1 of each year and included all regular pupils. Figures didn’t include private schools, home, charter, cyber and out-of-district placements, etc.
He said figures showed a noticeable decline in enrollment over the past 10 years. He said it’s down now by about 350 from 2007-08, but it’s also experienced slight growth in the last couple of years.
Waters said the district’s overall pattern of enrollments and increases will continue over the next five years at a much faster pace than in the last several years.
The district’s count will be up to 2,348 in 2022-23, or 5.8 percent higher than currently. In the extended projections, enrollments will grow initially and then transition into a decline.
Waters said enrollments will be down to 2,343 in 2027, but figures will still be 5.6 percent higher than in the current-year due to the strength of the growth in the first five years.
He also broke enrollment projections down into K-6 and 7-12. At the elementary level, the district is down by 56 in the past 10 years, and it’s up between the low point in 2011-12 and current.
Contrary to the growth in the past four years, enrollments in the next five years will drop by about 2 percent to 1,145 in 2022-23. In the extended projections, the elementary will see a modest increase, a leveling off and then a slight decline.
Waters said that the projection in the final year for K-6 is 1,162 as compared to 1,169 in the current school year.
At the junior-senior high school, he said the overall decline is 300 for the timeframe of 2007 to current. In the next five years, the district will see an increase that will feed off the one it experienced this year.
The district will be up by 153 children in 7-12 by 2022-23. In the extended projections, there will be increase for a year or two, before enrollments will drop and then level off with 1,181 in 10 years.
Waters said the district is seeing a decline in births, and only about 85 percent of those children born here are being enrolled in kindergarten five years later. Additionally, he said grade progression factors in over time.
He said they have been doing studies for the past 30 years, and they realize there will be uncertain events and the district’s administrators and board can conduct ongoing monitoring of the patterns.
“You’re pretty good for the next five years,” Waters said. He noted that if the next two years’ birth rates would depart from the projections then it would serve as a “mini alarm.”
He said the district will have at least five years lead time to respond to any substantive and material change that will last for a significant period of time. He said many of these are non-issues but need to be put on the table.
Waters noted that the enrollment figures are well within the standards for accuracy. When asked, he did say that this was the first enrollment study the PEL has done for Clearfield schools.
“We believe the set of projections are reasonable and realistic as can be produced based upon facts known at this time,” Waters said. “… They will serve you well in short- and long-term planning.”