The school system is gathering the tools to prepare for years into the future and the recently completed Demographic Long Range Planning Classroom Utilization Study, as presented at Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, offers a glimpse into what coming years could bring.
Analyzing the number of live births, business permits, and jobs, the study seeks to forecast enrollment over the next five to 10 years to better anticipate capacity and facility needs.
After declining in varying degrees for 10 of the last 11 years, K-12 enrollment has ticked back up slightly from 19,777 to 19,973. Projections peg enrollment at 21,231 for the 2028-29 school year.
Population trends project a county population growth from 110,975 people in 2015 to 143,255 by 2040.
James Wilson with Education Planners, the consulting firm hired to do the study, offered a promising outlook for the school system.
“You have a great county, and I’m speaking to the choir I know, but I’ve been in a lot of counties and I’ve done a lot of these, and everything that we went through, every person we talked to, was so positive about everything we did,” he said.
BOE Chair Dr. Barry Marchman cautioned that preparing for potential growth could bring financial strain.
“As we offer more and more programs and we need more buildings, we’re not going to get a lot of help from the state in terms of facilities if these numbers remain the same,” he said.
Superintendent Dr. Jody Barrow lauded the importance of having the data. If the numbers had not been updated, the system might still falsely think enrollment would continue declining.
“The last demographic study that was done, and this was done a number of years ago, had us continuing on a very steep downhill decline and losing a lot more students, and that’s not the case,” he said. “We’ve plateaued, and now we’re beginning to tick back up. You have to continue to look at your data on a regular basis.”
Wilson advised updating the study every three to five years to maintain a good grasp on projections.
The presentation, including projections broken down by school, can be viewed through the school system’s website at www.fcboe.org.