UCPS expects growth

Dec. 12, 2013 @ 05:10 PM

Jerome McKibben presented his 2013-2023 enrollment forecast for Union County Public Schools on Tuesday night. 

His study found that if his assumptions are accurate, Union County Schools will continue significant in-migration over the next 10 years, though the size and age structure will change and will be offset by a steady decrease in the young adult population as high school students move away for college or to urban areas. 

The study forecast that the district’s population will increase 8.2 percent — an estimated 16,454 from 2010 to 2015 — bringing the total population to 217,730. It also forecasts that from 2015 to 2020, the population will continue to increase by an additional 13,610 persons or 6.3 percent. 

All 29 elementary attendance areas are estimated to increase in population, with growth ranging from 64.6 percent in the Kensington area to 1.2 percent in the Prospect and Marshville areas. 

The main difference between the building boom in 2005 through 2007 and now is that it is more concentrated, McKibben said. There is an “age wave” going through the schools now because of the boom before the recession. 

Between 80 to 90 percent of the high school population increase consists of students who are already in the system, he said. Even if the county enacted a moratorium on new residential construction, it would not prevent that increase.

District-level growth will likely stop by the end of the decade, McKibben said. But every area is different, and forecasts for each school look different from the one at district level.

Board member Sherry Hodges asked how long it would take the current wave to work its way through the system. McKibben said the current wave could end around 2025, but if the housing market picks up there could be a longer and larger wave. 

McKibben’s report broke down growth by school level. It forecasted that elementary enrollment in the district will increase from the cureent 18,591 to 19,041 by the 2018-2019 school year — an increase of 450 students or 2.4 percent. However, from the 2018-2019 school year to the 2023-2024 school year, elementary school enrollment is forecasted to decrease by 1,349 students to a total of 17,692 or students. This would be a 7.1 decrease over the five-year period. 

Total middle school enrollment is forecasted to grow 3.4 percent, from the current 10,180 this year to 10,527 in 2018-2019. From the 2018-2019 school year to the 2023-2024 school year, middle school enrollment is estimated to decrease by only 8 students.  

Elementary schools currently have a much larger enrollment than middle grades, the study states. As those elementary students graduate to middle school, the smaller middle school population will graduate into high school. As long as this wave pattern exists, there will be an increase in middle school enrollment at least until 2021, after which the trend reverses and smaller sized grade levels graduate into middle school. 

High school enrollments are also forecasted to grow from the current 12,376 students to 14,527 students in 2018-2019. This is an increase of 1,790 students or 14.5 percent. After the 2018-2019 school year, enrollment will grow at a much slower rate. 

The report said that until the current wave of students now in elementary school reaches high school age, the high school population will climb until finally slowing in 2019.

Study assumptions

The data used in the forecasts come from UCPS enrollment numbers, birth and death data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Internal Revenue Service migration reports, information from the Census Bureau and other sources. 

The numbers are also predicated on a series of assumptions. The forcast numbers will change should any of the assumed conditions change.

Some of the assumptions include consistent mortality rates, fertility rates, a constant age-specific pattern of net migration and other factors. It also assumes current economic, political, transportation and public works infrastructure are unchanged and current social and environmental factors to remain static.

Likewise, the forecast also assumes a consistent economic outlook. It assumes no short-term economic recovery in the next 18 months and that there is not another deep recession during the 10 years.

Likewise, it makes assumptions about the housing market, such that interest rates for a 30-year-fixed home mortgage remains below 5 percent and that the mortgage approval rate stays at 1999-2002 levels. It assumes there are no additional restrictions places on home mortgage lenders or additional bankruptcies of major credit providers. It assumes the rate of housing foreclosures does not exceed 125 percent of the 2005-2007 average of the county and that the district will experience a continued increase in housing stock with an average of 2,000 new units being built through 2017 and new housing averaging 1,650 per year until 2023. 

Along with other assumptions, it assumes all currently planned, platted and approved housing developments are built out and completed by 2022 and occupied by 2023 and the unemployment rate for the area remains below 8.5 percent. 

Redistricting possible

The board will study the report further before considering whether or not redistricting is necessary. The full report is available on the UCPS website at www.ucps.k12.nc.us. 

Redistricting was an emotional topic at Tuesday night’s meeting with two parents representing two communities signed up to speak. 

Shannon Mallozzi spoke for the Lawson community. 

“We know that you folks did not create the problem,” she said.

She added that they have the “unenviable” task of cleaning up this “horrendous mess.” Building permits and more green lights for development are being handed out “like candy,”  she said.

She asked what they, as parents and residents, could do to help the school board and asked about maybe forming an oversight committee with residents, school board members, county commissioners and others. 

Redistricting will not solve the problem, she said. The school board could be back in this position within two or three years. She said they want to have their voice heard so they are “not constantly doing this.” 

Marianne Shields spoke for the Briarcrest community and told the board about her three children, currently in the Cuthbertson cluster. She told the board about how they moved to the county from Maryland, and she promised her children there would be no more changes until they were adults. She said her children were happy and thriving at their schools and urged the board not to redistrict. 

Board member Kevin Stewart asked school staff, plan to analyze the study to determine the best fiscal practices, optimum efficiencies for class sizes and common areas and the ability to build on or add mobile units. He said he wanted to study the bubbles and look at how long until they will self-correct if they allow some overcrowding now.