By Alex Lippa
---- — Statewide school enrollment has been on the decline for the last several years — and this year isn’t expected to be much different.
“There is a clear trend,” said Judith Fillion, director of the division of program support with the New Hampshire Department of Education. “We won’t know until September, but it’s especially expected in public schools.”
The decreasing enrollment comes as no surprise to local school administrators.
“We are right where we projected,” Londonderry Superintendent Nate Greenberg said. “But we anticipated it and were able to budget appropriately.”
Greenberg said he expects 4,550 students to walk through Londonderry school doors later this month. Last year, the district had 4,656 students. In Greenberg’s first year in 2000, they had more than 6,000 students.
“The biggest reason is the housing bust,” he said. “People who normally would have sold their home to downsize held on to homes. We didn’t get that housing turnover to bring new students into the district.”
Londonderry is just one of many communities throughout the state experiencing declining enrollment.
In 2003-2004, there were 203,359 students enrolled in public school; last year, there were only 181,900.
“There’s a lack of young new families coming to New Hampshire,” said Michael Cote, program specialist with the office of student data management with the Department of Education.
In Derry, they are seeing that firsthand this year. They are well short of their projected number of kindergarten students and will need to make adjustments if that doesn’t change before the beginning of school.
“It’s a significant decline,” Derry Superintendent Laura Nelson said. “We have an open kindergarten position that we may not end up filling.”
Nelson said she was trying to figure out why this year’s registration was so low.
“We’re not really sure why that is,” she said. “(We’re) not quite certain if a lot of people have moved. We are trying to work out the numbers.”
Nelson did say they are seeing small increases in other grades.
Timberlane Superintendent Earl Metzler said numbers have remained consistent in his district.
“We remain right around 4,000 students,” Metzler said. “We’ve had a statistically insignificant decline, but there are no surprises.”
He said it’s a positive sign for the district.
“It speaks to the support of our four towns for our district,” he said. “It shows families trust us with their most valuable commodity.”
Pelham is seeing a small decline.
“Overall, it is decreasing, but not at such a rapid pace as opposed to other towns,” Superintendent Amanda Lecaroz said. “We are along the I-93 corridor, so we haven’t been as affected as much as other districts.”
In Salem, Superintendent Michael Delahanty expects enrollment to be around 3,920, down a little from 3,946 last year.
“It’s what we projected,” he said. “I think we will keep seeing them go down until they eventually plateau and then start to pick up again.”
A declining enrollment isn’t completely negative.
“It’s been a blessing for us,” Greenberg said. “We were overcrowded significantly, we had larger class sizes and were providing remedial reading instructions in hallways because we just didn’t have the space.”
He said the low enrollment has allowed Londonderry to create art and music rooms for the elementary schools and allowed support services to have its own space.
It’s a similar situation in Salem.
“While we want as many kids to be at school as we can,” Delahanty said, “we’ve been able to reduce the student-to-teacher ratio, which has helped.”