Population is expected to continue to decline over the next 10 years in the North Salem School District, according to a new report.
After a decade of declining numbers, North Salem Schools Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Freeston said there will be a five-year period of decline followed by a five-year period of relative stability.
“There’s a lot in the report about millenials waiting to have children,” Freeston said. “They’re living at home still and delaying the parenthood phase of their life.”
The district posted the 10-year study on its website. It was prepared by the Western Suffolk BOCES Office of School Planning and Research and looks at population in the district, county and state.
“We’re entering a time of more stable enrollment,” Freeston told the school board at its meeting on Jan. 23.
According to the report, the district saw an overall loss of 280 students, or 20.8 percent, between 2008 and 2018 across all grades.
There are currently 1,063 students enrolled in the district and the study projected a total enrollment of 896 students in 2028, representing a loss of 167 students, or 15.7 percent.
The study points out that there were 3.8 million recorded births in 2017 in the United States, the lowest number of recorded births since 1987 coupled with the lowest fertility rate on record for women between 15 and 44.
In 2017, there were 60.3 births per 1,000 women compared to peak fertility rates of 122.7 births per 1,000 women in 1957, the Baby Boom years.
The study attributes declining birth rates to lower starting salaries, student loan debt and elevated rental costs.
In Westchester County, births have declined 22.8 percent from 1996 to 2016, with a record low number of births in 2016: 10,273. In Putnam County, where North Salem also pulls from, births declined 36.3 percent from 1996 with 817 births recorded in 2016.
Specifically in the North Salem School District, births ranged from 55-88 from 2003 to 2008 and fell to a low of 42 births in 2002. In 2016, there were 58 births.
The study shows that the median age in Westchester County has risen while the 19 and under population has decreased. In the North Salem School District, the 19 and under segment decreased from 27 to 26 percent of the population and the 65 and older segment grew from 15.6 to 18.5 percent from 2010 to 2016.
For the coming decade, district enrollment for elementary and high school is expected to peak this year with 434 and 380 students, respectively, while the middle school enrollment is expected to peak during 2021 with 246 students.
All enrollment is projected to drop for the next several years before leveling out in 2025.
Historical peak enrollment was 1,343 students in 2008.
Freeston said this study is useful for planning class courses and staff hiring.
“It’s worth the read,” Freeston said of the study. “We go right to that report when we’re figuring out our three bends up the river in terms of classes and staff.”