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School Administrators Grappling With Jump In Enrollment

Number of students district-wide is 3,337, 127 more than the 3,210 projected; Fewer kids left than expected and more moved in than expected; Anecdotal evidence points to increase in leases as possible reason.

 

The school district currently has 3,337 students enrolled, 127 more than the 3,210 budgeted, according to School Superintendent Thomas Scarice.

School administrators are evaluating how this will affect the budget, Scarice said. He said in addition to evaluating how it will affect day-to-day operations, the school board is also trying to determine how the enrollment increase will affect several big initiatives being discussed, including the possibility of full day kindergarten, and the future of the Town Campus Learning Center, a dedicated program designed to serve the needs of children from three to six years old with special needs.

Despite the unexpected jump in enrollment, the school year got off to a smooths start, Scarice said.

"Everyone is pulling together to welcome in all of these new students"

"We had a great start to the school year," he said. "A very smooth start. We had a number of new staff and administrators and everyone is pulling together to welcome in all of these new students that we didn't expect."

The most immediate question is how the increase in enrollment will affect the current year's budget. "That's what we're wrestling with right now," said Scarice, who started as school superintendent several months ago. "The reality is that we've already had to move around some funds because of shortages in books here or there, and we've had to add a section of kindergarten."

Scarice said administrators are going to look at the overall funding situation to see if there are areas where the district can cut back or do without.

Calculating the cost to the district is a complex process

Scarice said it's not as easy at taking a per pupil expenditure statistic and multiplying it by 127. "One kid could be a fraction of that and another kid could be $60,000 [because of special needs or because they need to be educated out of district] ... The kids are coming to us brand new and even if they have been identified as special needs, all we have is a piece of paper right now."

Scarice said enrollment projections are generally based on live births, real estate sales and kids moving up from one grade to the next. But it appears as though more children may have moved into the district, perhaps because of leasing through non-traditional means such as Craigslist, Scarice said.

"We have kids moving in K through 12," he said. "It's pretty much been across the board, not just in kindergarten, but also kids in grades four and six and eleven. A lot of them are coming up with leases as proof of residency."

Not clear whether it's a trend, or a one-year blip

When leases are done directly through Craigslist or other similar markets, tracking it becomes a challenge under the methods currently being used, Scarice said. He said it's not clear whether this is a trend, or just a one-year blip.

"That question remains to be answered. We will know more next year. But we are in a position right now where we are going to have to be very resourceful, and committed to doing the best we can with the resources the town has provided us. We are going to do our best to stay within budget, but we may have to do without certain things," he said.

He said the district already is "running lean," so the question of what will have to be cut back is a difficult one to answer. "We are wrestling with that and will be for weeks."

"This is about as complex as it can get for a district"

In addition to any budget adjustments made in the short-term, Scarice said, it's not clear how these new students might affect resources throughout the years. "There may be blossoming issues right now and it could be in the spring that we find out we are not meeting the student's needs," he said.

"This is about as complex as it can get for a district," he said.

Scarice said the school board is in discussions with the company that did the projections to evaluate whether they can adjust their methodology to take into account the leasing market going forward. 

"Uncharted waters in our district"

"The leasing piece of it is uncharted waters in our district, to have it be this significant," he said.

"Our registrar has been in this position for quite some time and, anecdotally, she has seen more leases this year as proof of residency than any time before."

Because the real estate market, for the most part, remains weak, Scarice said it's possible that empty nesters who otherwise might be putting their homes on the market, are waiting a year or two to see if the market recovers, and that they are leasing in the meantime.

Full year kindergarten, TCLC future to be discussed in October

In October, Scarice said, the school board will be presented with a recommendation about whether the district should consider implementing full-day kindergarten for next year. "We have a committee putting together some findings and we will present this early October," Scarice said. He said the plan is to present the proposal to the full board October 16. The presentation likely will be over two consecutive meetings, he said, so that the board has plenty of time to look at recommendations and analyze them.

The board also is evaluating whether to close the current Town Campus Learning Center facility, at town campus, and house the program in one of the elementary schools, Scarice said.

"But we need to take into consideration the needs of the students," Scarice said. "These are fragile students and we need to take into consideration what is in the best interests of the students, in addition to other factors."

Increase in enrollment will play a part in those decisions; Brown bag lunch discussions planned

The increase in enrollment will play a part in those decisions, along with others, Scarice said. He said the school board also plans to take a close look at plans for next year's budget starting this fall as well.

"The board is very wise to wrestle with these issue and debate it publicly before the budget process," he said. "The board will be taking a stand on those two issue prior to the budget process."

In addition to discussing it with the board, Scarice said he intends to host a series of brown bag lunches to have informal discussions with members of the community on a variety of issues. He is working with the Scranton Memorial Library to see if they might have space. He said he also might look into having one at the Senior Center and other locations. He said the tentative date for the first one is Sept. 28.

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah Page Kyrcz September 10, 2012 at 12:02 PM
This is so timely...I just talked with a Madison teacher yesterday who said she heard leasing was becoming very popular in town. Maybe an interesting follow up piece!
Susan McDevitt September 10, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Full day kindergarten would be a huge asset to the town. I know of people who did not choose to move here specifically because of that reason!
Gus R. Horvath September 10, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Home sales (new & existing) through July were 140 compared to 151 in 2011 and 115 in 2010. With Madison's ageing population maybe the number of empty nesters' sales has been increasing. We downsized to a condo and sold to a family with 4 children.
Lynne Charles September 10, 2012 at 03:03 PM
It's important to keep the focus on the students' needs, and am heartened to read Scarice's emphasis on that. I hope the board carries that attitude forward when making next year's budget and choose not to carve it to the bare-bones at the demand of special interests, such as property owners.
Jon September 10, 2012 at 03:30 PM
So this article has an underlying current that expenses for the town will need to go up, here we go again. The ONLY practical ways to pay for an increase of expenses is to dump the land the town purchased at the old airport or sell Academy school to a developer. There should be NO increase in taxes or attempt to increase the budget when the Dept of Finance and school board haven't moved a finger to cut out any of the existing fat from the current budget. This town is short on common sence and smart planning.
Janet September 10, 2012 at 03:33 PM
I wouldn't call property owners "special interests" Lynne... We are what supports this town. Efficiency does not have to mean a lack of quality.
Janet September 10, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Also, I hope the registrar is checking the validity of these leases; there is fraud out there in the better school districts. i am questioning Craigs List leases being accepted as the only proof of residency.
Matt September 10, 2012 at 04:20 PM
So if our town leaders are to ignore property owners in Madison, who exactly should the be held accountable to?? That eliminates... everyone. Though I suppose most of our town leaders already do that anyway.
Matt September 10, 2012 at 04:23 PM
The nature people won't allow the airport to be sold. Too late.
Lara Morton September 10, 2012 at 05:26 PM
In any other town, the trend toward renting residents would be completely unremarkable. Why don't 'we' say what 'we' really think about this-- "I hope Madison doesn't turn into another Branford. We like our demographic as homogenous as possible." Next thing you know we'll be allowing fast food restaurants to move in. Golly, what a conundrum!
Lara Morton September 10, 2012 at 06:01 PM
In response to (Jon): The true "underlying current" is that renters don't pay town taxes yet the town educates their children, which makes people think that we may someday have to actually use our free and reduced lunch vouchers. Of course, the homeowner renting to these unknown Craigslist-happy contingents DOES pay the town taxes so what's the problem? Common SENSE says that a town with the wealth and resources of Madison shouldn't have a problem educating 170 or so new kids. And since I'm on the topic, a town with the wealth and resources of Madison should have a state of the art theatre in its high school (a la Hamden HS, East Haven HS, Branford HS, Amity HS) so kids like me growing up here don't think they are invisible and inconsequential because they are not jocks or math whizzes. But what does DHHS have? A CAFETORIUM. Like your average inner-city elementary school-variety performance "space." The arts in schools save lives (saved mine) and make the world a better place-- I know this in the depth of my soul as an arts educator because I witness miracles every time I teach a drama class or direct a school production. I'm embarrassed by this town more often than not-- we spend our energies creating foundations to help "those less fortunate" in other, distant parts of the world, but God forbid those less fortunate should decide to move here. Oh, the hypocrisy....
Lara Morton September 10, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Janet, free your mind. There is no such thing as a "Craigslist" lease. There is a Craigslist listing section for housing and people who cannot pay thousands of dollars to a Realtor to find a renter for them find much FREE success there. I have rented through Craigslist to wonderful people who appreciated the care I took in describing my property and what the environment is like-- and how did I do that? Because I didn't have to pay $40 for two lines in a newspaper. I have also rented through Craigslist, and found great apartments for myself or friends. The world is a big, place, with lots of different kinds of people in it. Madison is a fish bowl. Always has been.
Janet September 10, 2012 at 06:26 PM
So when the high school was redesigned, did no one solicit input from residents? Or did town leaders ignore your concerns? I wasn't here at the time so I'm just curious. I'm not opposed to spending money, I'm opposed to spending it poorly and without proper planning.
Ann September 10, 2012 at 06:38 PM
I just read an article in the New haven register about the new and improved Madison police force. The article referenced our population increase between Winter and Summer as going from 19,000 to 50,000. I live in a part of town where about 70% of homes are vacant during the Winter. I can imagine it would be tempting to those home-owners to rent out their homes on an academic basis, just to help pay their town taxes. My neighbor turned down an offer from someone who wanted to pay her for a lease agreement but told her they wouldn't move in, just wanted the address so they could send their kids to the school,
Lara Morton September 10, 2012 at 06:43 PM
So with property taxes coming from most of those 31,000 summer residents all year long, you'd think we'd be able to educate a whole lot more kids than we currently do.
Janet September 10, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Exactly my point Ann, if people legitimately live here, renters or owners, it's fine... But I do not want to pay for fraud and all I'm asking is that our school officials check the residencies.
Lara Morton September 10, 2012 at 06:51 PM
Oh, sure there was input-- In fact, the director who presided over the musicals when I was at DHHS (in the old building, which had a okay-ish theater facility-- really low proscenium makes lighting a problem) and for many years after that, quit on principle. He could not justify continuing to work in a town that puts out a clear message: creative kids are just not as important as athletes and scholars. Mind you, if you read the programs of the musicals at schools like Amity and Branford HS (who do WORLD CLASS productions rivaling professional theater), most of those kids are honors students and campus leaders. It's just a total shame and a sham that Madison could not care less about the quality of its theatrical arts programs (as evidenced by the productions, locally regarded by those who know anything about theater to be among the worst in the state). The truth is, that with a good facility and a consistent director who knows her/his stuff and is in it for the right reasons, Madison could be a contender in the arts. There's talent, but no one to champion it. It's really sad.
Matt September 10, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Craigs List is just a free version of the ads in news papers and the realtor's books. It has nothing to do with any perceived problem. It is how I leased out my property that was not practical to sell thanks to the market. If people are pretending to lease space just to get into our school system, that is fraud and has nothing to do with where and how the property was listed for lease. One can open up the NH Register paid classifieds to find a property listing and do the same thing. Reference Jim Deephouse and his "Vote No For Better Education" campaign. That is why the high school was value engineered down to a cafetorium and other ridiculous crap. He fooled voters into thinking they needed vote no on a referendum in order to get a new school built. In reality, they were voting no on the funding to build the facility that was needed. He actually put up signs all over town saying VOTE NO FOR BETTER EDUCATION. It's a shame but it worked.
Allan Y. September 10, 2012 at 07:22 PM
That number is obviously wrong. No way there's 31,000 summer residents.
Ann September 10, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Since we're talking population statistics, I'm curious if the fact checking was really that far off in the New Haven Register with respect to Madison's population. This is the article I was referring to above. http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2012/09/10/news/shoreline/doc504d4df51724d277271548.txt?viewmode=3
Janet September 11, 2012 at 02:03 AM
I also find it worth further exploration that Wilton Ct has 25% more students than does Madison, and makes do with one less school. One less school means that many less administrative and custodial needs. I'm curious to why the Superintendent feels the system is "already running lean" with class sizes of 16 in some cases, well below the state standard range. More efficiency can mean more funds for more varied programs.
Fred September 11, 2012 at 04:40 AM
The phantom 31,000 summer residents includes the people camping at Hammonnassett, which is in Madison.
Fred September 11, 2012 at 04:45 AM
I think that it's terrific that people choose not to move here because we don't have all-day kindergarten. Those aren't kind of people we want to live here.
Lara Morton September 11, 2012 at 05:01 AM
Really, Fred? You mean like people who want their children to get the most thorough education available? Those people? Many thanks for illustrating the points I've been making today about this fine, fine town we live in. I'm also willing to bet you never performed in a high school play- else you might have picked up some character education and learned what empathy is? You win the b.s. award for the day. Bravo!
Ann September 11, 2012 at 10:07 AM
Fred. I was just beginning to think chief Drum was including the campers in his town Summer population estimate. I guess I hadn't realized at first that our town police were the only ones responsible for policing Hammonassett. So maybe there are 10,000 campers and an extra 21,000 Summer residents. It's probably not healthy to come up with an idea of who we do and don't want living in town. I'm not sure who the "we" is. I was a blow in from new York 24 years ago and I feel very connected to this town through years of volunteering in the school and being a stay at home mom and meeting people from all walks every day. People become good citizens and/or volunteer if they have time. People help their neighbors and, in Madison,as I'm sure would happen in most small towns, I've always had a good example to follow because there was a long tradition of "helping out" among the parents of older kids or neighbors.
Fred September 11, 2012 at 02:52 PM
@ Lara. Yes, “people who want their children to get the most thorough education available,” and who wish somebody else to pay for it, are exactly who I am talking about. The Town should seek to attract revenue-positive citizens. People who base their selection of residence upon the availability taxpayer-funded, all-day kindergarten are likely to continue to demand taxpayer-funded goodies. They are also likely to move to lower tax pastures when their youngest goes off to college, and they must continue to pay for, but no longer benefit from, the goodies that they have demanded over the years. If all-day kindergarten is important to them, fine, it is available – just not on the taxpayer dime

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