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Declining Enrollment Won't Force Redistricting

The number of children in the Central Bucks School District is on the decline, school officials said Tuesday, with implications for future teaching jobs, class sizes and school populations.

After two decades of often-explosive growth, enrollment in the Central Bucks School District finally is on the decline.

But the drops so far seem to be across the board, leaving the district's 23 schools with fairly even student populations.

That means the declines are not likely to lead to large layoffs or to school redistricting, at least not any time soon.

That was the bottom line message of a discussion of school enrollment at Tuesday's school board meeting.

School board member John Gamble said he frequently is asked by parents what the district's population declines will mean for their children's schools.

"Although it’s a slight decline, they always ask 'Are we redistricting again?' " Gamble said during the discussion. "No, there’s no redistricting, because the buildings are comparable and they are even."

During his first school board meeting as Central Bucks' new superintendent, Dr. Rodney Green presented the board with charts and tables showing the district's population changes in recent years by grade level and by school.

As of Oct. 1, Central Bucks has 19,856 students, down from 20,092 in 2011 and 20,440 in 2010.

Of this year's total, 9,833 students are in the district's 15 elementary schools, 4,992 in its five middle schools and 5,031 in its three high schools.

The loss of about 500 students in the past two years has led to the loss of teaching positions, Green said, but class sizes have not increased appreciably.

"We have lost staff, mainly through attrition, and kept class sizes steady," Green said, adding later, "Probably by attrition, we can handle (staffing changes) as we go."

Within a few years, the district's population is expected to level out at about 18,500, Green said.

Still, district officials are keeping a close eye on factors that influence school enrollment, including several new housing developments currently underway within the district's communities.

On Route 313 just outside Doylestown, NV Homes is building The Overlook at Carriage Hill. The new neighborhood is expected to contain more than 500 single family homes and townhouses when construction is complete.

In past years, that kind of neighborhood would have sent a whopping 900 children surging into nearby schools.

"We were getting 1.8 kids per unit" during the height of the district's growth period, school board member Geri McMullin said, "and with 500 units, we were a little frightened."

But that doesn't seem to be happening, school officials said.

Dr. David Weitzel, the district's assistant superintendent for elementary education, said he visited the neighborhood twice this summer. Even though only about 20 percent of the neighborhood has been built, it has sent only about 10 students to Central Bucks schools, he told the board.

"The demographic moving in is not quite what they thought it would be," Weitzel said. "It's a lot of downsizing and couples without children."

Three more neighborhoods are under construction in the Warrington area, board member Stephen Corr said.

One, Warrington Meadows by Toll Brothers, is a "luxury" neighborhood of just 21 homes, with prices ranging from about $550,000 to $621,000.

Another, Oak Creek at Warrington by NV Homes, contains 23 plots for single-family homes.

A third development, Penrose Walk, also by NV Homes, will contain 48 townhomes between Bradford Avenue and Phillips Avenue.

The marketing materials for each neighborhood boasts of its location in the "highly reated" Central Bucks School District. But it's not clear how many school-age children the neighborhoods will be home to, once they are built.

In response to a question from school board member Joe Jagelka, Green said he also didn't expect vouchers or school choice to have much of an impact on Central Bucks.

"We are the most desirable district in the area right now," Green said. "But those are things to keep an eye on."

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