Sarah Kemp was so happy to be the bearer of some good news, she couldn’t help but smile and laugh.
The researcher with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Applied Population Laboratory has been a familiar face in the district boardroom over the past decade or so. Unfortunately, it’s usually with the task of telling Stoughton Area School District officials their student populations – and thus, their budgets – were declining.
For more than a decade, the district has worked with the laboratory to get long-term projections on student enrollment, area population, housing and a variety of demographic information. Every few years, the lab updates the study and Kemp presents the findings.
Things were a bit different Monday night.
While the story of decreased enrollment remained the same, her first presentation in nearly two years was also mixed with encouraging news and recent trends – suggesting that the district’s chronic enrollment decline could finally be turning around.
Increases in the number of young, school-aged children and construction of single-family housing have altered the latest 10-year projections to the point where the study suggests the SHS class of 2029 might only be a dozen or so students smaller than the one graduating this June.
“This (projection) is a very important component to determine enrollment as we look forward, (and) your kindergarten is showing an increase,” Kemp said “I’m so glad to come in and say I have some good news.”
Another factor is the increase in construction of single-family homes in the area, with a corresponding decrease in multi-family construction.
“Families with children tend to purchase single homes rather than multi-family homes,” she said.
According to “baseline” projections that Kemp said has proven the most accurate type of projection, the district would go from 2,904 students this fall to 2,634 in fall 2028. However, the “kindergarten trend” projection – weighted more heavily toward recent kindergarten enrollment trends – projects a much smaller decrease, from an estimated 2,916 students this fall to 2,901 in fall 2028.
The study brought several other bits of positive news for a district desperately seeking more families with school-aged children.
In the past 10 years, the district has lost nearly 13 percent of its 4K-12 student population, from 3,364 to 2,928. Kemp said the study models predict continued decrease, though at a lesser rate of 4-10 percent within five years, which she said is a “good window” for accurate projections.
“The further out you go, the less reliable the projections are,” she said.
There is also some good news in the numbers from a seven-year trend on birthrates around the district, which Kemp said is still declining (more in the towns than in the city), “but not as dramatically as the long-term trend.”
“It’s kind of been bounding up and down the last seven years,” she said.
She said population in the city has “grown slightly” in the past two years, with surrounding townships keeping “steady.” Some of the demographics numbers are mixed, with a decrease in residents between 10-19 but increases in the 0-9 and 65 and older categories.