Rosalyn Schmitt, Chief Operating Officer for Albemarle County Public Schools, spoke to the Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) about school capacity and enrollment in the western feeder pattern schools at the group’s February 13 meeting. Schmitt’s presentation showed that enrollment at the four Crozet area schools has grown by an average of 11 percent over the last five years, and is projected to increase by another 9 percent in the next five years.
CCAC vice-chair Shawn Bird asked how Crozet’s growth compared to other areas of the county, and although Ms. Schmitt did not have that data immediately available, county Supervisor Ann Mallek noted that “[s]ixty percent of all the building permits for the entire county during the recession were out here, so there have got to be families with children who will come with those.”
Schmitt also presented school enrollment history at the two western elementary schools, broken down by neighborhood area in Crozet. The Old Trail neighborhood accounts for 58 percent of the total enrollment increase at Brownsville Elementary over the last ten years, while the Westhall neighborhood has contributed most to enrollment at Crozet Elementary (though net enrollment at CES has declined because of redistricting to Brownsville in 2009/10).
To plan for the future, enrollment projections are calculated using a “cohort survival method,” which Schmitt described as a common method employed by school divisions. “It uses historical models, plus live birth data, for kindergarten,” she said, “and is influenced by data from Community Development,” though the latter numbers are not directly incorporated into the model. After kindergarten enrollments are projected based on the number of babies born in a given year with home addresses in the county, the cohort survival method projects how many children are likely to be enrolled in the future by using a 3-year, 6-year, or 10-year historical average of actual enrollments in the past.
“We choose the appropriate historical model based on other factors,” said Schmitt. “For instance, if we see a lot of development in the pipeline then we’re going to choose the model with the highest projected growth.”
“How aggressive is that projection based on the actual number of building permits that have been issued?” asked a CCAC member. Schmitt answered that, for example, in the case of Brownsville Elementary, the projections are more likely to use the 3-year average, meaning that the rate of growth over the last three years is what’s expected to happen in the next three years.
Another CCAC member asked whether the department goes back to assess how accurate their assumptions have been in the past. “Yes,” said Schmitt, “and we’re very accurate at the division level—within one percent—but you lose accuracy as you go down a level [to the school feeder patterns and then individual schools] and also the farther you go out in time. I would say in the last four or five years we have under-projected this area, and so we’ll keep that in mind when we make decisions based on those numbers.”
Bird summed up a projection example in the presentation, which used Crozet Elementary data and a 10-year historical growth model. “So, right now, Crozet has 362 students, and you’re projecting that in ten years they will have 341 students,” said Bird. “That goes against the common perception that our schools are going to get more and more crowded.” Schmitt noted that some schools will become more crowded, while others will be less so.
“In the modeling, kindergarten projections are really our wild card, and where you see the biggest swings,” said Schmitt. “We receive live birth data at a county level, and we have historical data that tells us where within the county those births show up, so if you’re way off in your kindergarten numbers then that travels through all of your projections for future grades as well.”
A CCAC member questioned whether the kindergarten modeling methodology was appropriate for a growth area. “There are so many of us here with kids in kindergarten now who were not necessarily born here,” said the attendee. Schmitt conceded that the whole model is based on historical growth, so until actual enrollments change, the projections will not respond. However, she said that decisions such as, for example, how large a school addition should be would take planned development into account.
Despite Schmitt’s reassurances, Crozet residents remain concerned about the influence of enrollment projections that intuitively seem too low, such as estimates that Crozet Elementary will either lose or add only a few students over the next ten years, despite the planned construction of two large apartment complexes in the school’s district. “In my study of enrollment projections for Crozet Elementary over the past several years, they have been under-projected every year, sometimes by a lot,” said CCAC Chair Allie Pesch. “So I’m not even looking down the road, I’m just concerned about next year.”
Schmitt’s ten-year projections show the most severe capacity conflicts in western district schools will affect Brownsville and Crozet elementary schools and Western Albemarle High School, which are projected to be over capacity by 142, 53, and 120 students, respectively. An eight-classroom addition has been part of the division’s Long-Range Planning Advisory Committee recommendations since 2012, though it is not currently funded in the county’s 5-year capital budget. “If funded in fiscal year 2020, best case scenario is that an addition could open by the 2021/22 school year,” said Schmitt.
What can we do at a community level to help? asked one CCAC member. “The best thing to do is that everyone should be doing their homework on the budget when the numbers come out and speak up about it,” said Mallek, “and the School Board needs to set some very clear priorities for us to have a good discussion.”