Tuesday, November 19, 2019

An Ostrich/School Department Memory Flogger from 2007

“Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”  (And municipal governments and school departments do not get waivers. – Ed.)

Now that we’re approaching our dotage (if not in it, that is), Side enjoys an occasional excursion into philosophy and history.  Especially when they pretty clearly apply to our very own circumstances.

With that out of the way, you’re probably wondering why we’re boring you with an Ostrich article from 12 plus years ago.  That will become clear enough in a subsequent post or two.

We’re pasting the article here so you have a chance to do your homework before reading the new post(s).  In the process, we hope to warm the cockles of your achey-breakey heart with fond memories of our local history, so you can mull on how we seem hell bent on repeating it.

Til the new post publishes,
Your correspondent Side
Multiple variables color enrollment projections in Brunswick

BRUNSWICK — A new study predicts that Brunswick school enrollment will rebound five years after Brunswick Naval Air Station's scheduled decommissioning in 2011. But the credibility of the prognostication is clouded by a host of uncertainties, ranging from how to interpret state and regional demographic trends to the impact future redevelopment of BNAS will have on the housing market.

Completed by Planning Decisions Inc., of South Portland as part of the school district's new elementary school building process, the study uses historical enrollment data, birth rates, U.S. Census data, housing development patterns and area labor markets to project future enrollment of students in the Brunswick school district, a task muddied by countless variables of base closure.

"It's (a study) with the most potential for variations," Planning Decision's project manager Rebecca Wandell said about the latest student population analysis.

Three scenarios

Despite complicated unknowns, the study portends enrollment will drop by 460 students at the most, depending on which of three scenarios is used to project enrollment for the next 10 years.

While the three projections suggest differing enrollment low points, they each predict enrollment will rebound within 10 years, at which point the schools are pegged to hold 2,927 students or only 227 fewer students than the current population.

What happens next, depends on future plans for Brunswick.

"At this point, it's really hard to say exactly what will happen. Especially with the base, there's no exact plan of what's going to happen," Wandell said, noting that increasingly distant projections produce correspondingly fuzzy results.

A thematic recommendation of the Planning Decisions enrollment analysis urges the school district to watch enrollment trends annually as Navy squadrons depart incrementally during the next four years. That process could be delayed, though, by construction delays in Florida.

"It all depends on when the hangar is being built," Wandell said, about the construction of a facility at a Navy air station in Jacksonville, Fla., that will receive departing Brunswick squadrons.

Recommendations to monitor student numbers didn't surprise School Superintendent James Ashe, who said the study confirmed school administrators' daily observations that the district's enrollment isn't shrinking.

In fact, Ashe guesses district enrollment will continue to grow after 2016-17, given potential that base redevelopment will attract new families to jobs and vacated military housing now bound by a "one child per bedroom" rule that could hold multiple children per bedroom if funneled to the civilian market.

Potential new families converging with planning for Brunswick's new elementary school building project leaves Ashe hoping the enrollment estimate is not too low. His concern stems from experience with a 2004 Brunswick enrollment study completed by Planning Decisions that underestimated the district's population this year by 4 percent, or 130 students.

"We have really used the past one religiously," he said.

Most Planning Decisions school enrollment studies hit their target estimates, according to Scott Brown, who oversees school construction projects for the state. Over 90 percent of enrollment predictions for new school projects come from Planning Decisions, one of the only Maine firms that offers the service.

"We're trying to balance extremely limited resources with the planning enrollment," he said, noting that the state tries to prevent both wasting dollars on unused space and towns from outgrowing their schools.

So far, it seems the state has fairly accurately forecast enrollments for new buildings. A March 2006 study on school facilities requested by the Legislature shows that most of 30 new schools built since 1999 fit easily within 70 percent to 95 percent of their 10-year enrollment projections.

Lure of a new school

One of the two schools that exceed their projections is Lisbon Community School, which was approved for 700 students in 2003 and by last year had already hit 103 percent of its 10-year enrollment projection.

Planning Decisions does not factor the draw of a new school facility in its projections because the firm's analysts can't quantify it, but Lisbon's proximity to job centers and lower housing prices combined with a new school facility doubtless proved attractive to young families.

That same combination may draw families to Brunswick to replace nearly 700 military dependent students projected to leave as the Navy squadrons depart. Planning Decisions projects the district will lose 18 percent to 22 percent of its student population directly from relocating military dependents, with the heaviest student losses between 2008 and 2010 according to one base closure scenario or spread gradually over the next decade according to another.

Wandell expects that new students will eventually replace those lost to base closure, but says the question is how long that process will take. Depending on base redevelopment plans, relatively new housing units on the base could attract to Brunswick new families who are looking for available and affordable housing.

"They could perhaps have reasonably priced housing close to where they work," she said.

Other factors

Besides incoming families, the study states the town has seen residential growth over recent years, with an average of 90 building permits for new homes in the last four years.
Town Planner Theo Holtwijk cautioned, however, that while the building permits, which also have decreased each of the last four years, show the number of households, they don't reveal the number of people living inside them, making it difficult to gauge if the community is growing in population. Recent figures attached to the 2006 comprehensive plan update show Brunswick's household size has decreased in the last decade.

Some suggest that statewide predictions of declining student populations undermine the study's conclusions. Brunswick resident Pem Schaeffer says the town is more likely to see seniors than students move into the vacated military housing units, given recent demographic and development trends.

He also says Planning Decision's enrollment analysis assumes a redevelopment effort that attracts the same Navy-aged population, an inaccurate reflection of the base closure's impact on student population because Navy duty rotations essentially keep constant the average age and family size of Navy housing units. When they leave, he surmises, not only will Brunswick's birth rates drop, but fixed amounts of land and high property taxes will stem an influx of residential growth, even as residents front resistance to current economic development proposals like a business park for West Brunswick.

Demographic data supports Schaeffer's view of a declining school-aged population. Although the town still has more fertile than mature females, it lost 7.2 percent of its "fertile females," those in the 18 to 44 age bracket generally considered of normal ages for child bearing, between 1990 and 2000, according to U.S. Census data.

Fifteen years after Pease Air Force Base closed in neighboring New Hampshire, it's host community of Portsmouth is still experiencing a decline in its school district's student population. With development efforts that brought a tradeport, passenger airline carrier and golf course to the former base, the town's school district has dropped 300 students in the past nine years to its current 2,572 student population, according to enrollment date from the school district's Web site. Portsmouth's superintendent did not return a call inquiring about the district's enrollment projections at the time of closure.

But although Planning Decisions estimates annual births among Brunswick residents will drop by 75 to about 165 births per year, that estimate doesn't account for new families moving in, a factor expected to be heavily influenced by base redevelopment. According to the study, the influx of replacement families hinges not only on Brunswick's land for residential development and proximity to job centers, but also its own efforts toward commercial development.

The complete report is available under the "elementary school building project information" link on the school district Web site at www.brunswick.k12.me.us.