It’s a bear market for school growth in Fayette County for at least the next decade, according to a demographic expert hired by the Board of Education.
By 2021, local schools will have 1,650 fewer students than currently enrolled, a projected decline of 8.1 percent.
The good news is that the shallow decline likely will postpone having to close any Fayette schools for at least two years, according to Superintendent Jeff Bearden.
The bad news is that any budget cuts in the near future likely will mean cuts in numbers of teachers and parapros.
Falling enrollment in Fayette County public schools has been an area of concern for the past several years. To more adequately examine the issue the school system hired a demographer to perform a study of future enrollment trends.
The preliminary findings of the report were received just hours before the Oct. 3 work session and were reported by Supt. Bearden. Less negatively impacting than expected, Bearden said the study shows that enrollment will decrease 8.1 percent over the next 10 years.
Bearden said the preliminary report shows that Fayette schools will experience a decline in enrollment of less than 1 percent each year for the next 10 years. That number, Bearden said, amounts to an overall decrease of 8.1 percent, or 1,650 students, during the 10-year period.
“I was expecting it to be a little more dramatic,” Bearden told board members.
Announcing that the full report along with a menu of options for board consideration would be presented at the regular meeting on Oct. 17, Bearden did recommend that the cost-saving idea of closing schools, a notion put forward in a recent community survey as part of a larger undertaking to trim $10 million out of the budget by July 1, be put on hold for the next two years based on the demographic survey.
“I think it would be premature to close schools at this time,” said Bearden “But this does put the community on notice that this could happen at some point if needed.”
Based on the preliminary report, Bearden said he would also recommend that the revenue-generating proposal of allowing qualified out-of-county students to pay tuition to attend Fayette schools be taken off the table.
What is likely to be the subject of budget cuts for next year will be personnel, Bearden said, since staffing accounts for approximately 90 percent of the budget.
Reminding board members that the study represents only projections relating to future enrollment, Bearden said the full report will include a demographic breakdown in the areas across the county where schools are located.