Gradual Enrollment Decline to Continue, Say Schools’ Projections

January 5, 2023

Enrollment in the Bedford Public Schools will continue a gradual decline over the next three years, according to projections that are included in the proposed 2023-24 budget.

The pattern continues a trend evident over the past four years, when the net student population declined by 147 from 2,642 in 2019-20 to this school year’s 2,495. (The totals don’t include pre-kindergarten, where numbers fluctuated between 28 and 52). 

Over those four years, there have been dramatic drops in the younger grades, resulting in a reduction of five educator positions in the proposed 2023-24 budget.

School district leaders use “multiple sources including NESDEC, birth rates, local property and census data, and standard accepted methodologies to arrive at internal one- and two-year projections that serve as planning numbers,” said Director of Finance Julie Kirrane in an email. 

NESDEC is the New England School Development Council, a private, not-for-profit educational organization that develops enrollment projections and updates for scores of clients. Asked what variables NESDEC considers in making its projections, someone who answered the telephone at the firm’s Marlborough office said the entity “does not talk to the press about our methodologies.”

There’s more than the usual uncertainty, Kirrane noted, since “the pandemic had a pretty significant impact on school attendance patterns. We are still coming out from that with many unknowns.”

The enrollment projections show that over the next three years, the student population in the elementary schools (excluding preschool) will decrease by 192 students – 78 in Davis School and 114 in Lane School.

Actual enrollment patterns, as presented in the budget document, illustrate the decline in the younger grades. Following are comparisons between 2019-20 and the current year, and the 2023-24 projection following in parentheses:

Kindergarten from 183 to 141 (149); Grade 1, from 197 to 145 (151); Grade 2, from 217 to 184 (153); Grade 3, from 197 to 179 (185); Grade 4, from 201 to 190 (181); Grade 5, from 213 to 218 (194).

During the same period, smaller increases are projected for the upper grades: 12 at John Glenn Middle School and 26 at Bedford High School. The net total for the district is a drop of 154.

Ten years ago, the student population in kindergarten through high school was 2,480.

Kirrane, in her email, acknowledged that “kindergarten is notoriously difficult to project – so many dynamic and variable factors are at play. Time will tell, but smaller incoming classes tend to impact the entire district over time. And it is also true that a couple of larger kindergarten classes can quickly turn around a trend.”

The enrollment data include 10-year projections. According to the NESDEC website, “These 10-year projections are designed to provide our affiliates with yearly, up-to-date enrollment information that can be used by boards and administrators for effective planning and allocation of resources.” 

NESDEC notes in its report that enrollment projections of up to four years are more reliable. Beyond that, the forecasts “may serve as a guide for future enrollments and useful for planning purposes.”

Kirrane concurred. “Typically, the most accurate projections are the near-term ones. Accuracy is lower with five-year and 10-year projections.” 

Just two years ago, NESDEC forecast 2022-23 enrollment in kindergarten and grades 1 and 2 as 151, 157, and 174, respectively. The actual numbers are 141, 145, and 184.

There are other variables presented in the enrollment report. For example, there are 112 students who live in Bedford who attend independent and parochial schools, of which 48 are in high school.

Last year, according to the report, there were 34 Bedford students in the category of home-schooled and 49 special education students being educated outside the district.

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