Over the last decade, administrators at Cazenovia Central School District have watched fewer students graduate as seniors and even fewer register as kindergartners.
Declining enrollment has become a large issue for local schools, and the district has begun to examine ways to reverse the trend and increase the number of younger families that move to Cazenovia.
“In the last nine years, we’ve dropped 200 kids … We’re in the same position everyone else is, in the sense of finances. But the double-whammy to us is growth. In Madison County, we were 12th out of 20 on our tax-base growth for 2011,” said CCSD Superintendent Bob Dubik. “[Cazenovia] is a perfect place for people to raise their families. It’s a safe, beautiful, charming community. We think that we’re doing our part to continue the tradition of excellence and education … and we want people to move to our community. Once they’re here, we have them.”
In Dubik’s nine years as superintendent, he has seen lower numbers of incoming students every year, except for 2008, when 20 students joined the district. In 2003, CCSD boasted 1807 pupils in grades Kindergarten through 12, this year, 1603 students are enrolled in the district’s three academic buildings.
From 1987 to 1995, the district saw an increase in the number of incoming students each year. In 2008, a total of 161 seniors graduated, which was one of the largest classes to pass through the halls of Cazenovia High School.
This year, Burton Street Elementary welcomed 90 Kindergartners, and 138 seniors are slated to graduate in June. Dubik said the district is expecting just 80 incoming Kindergarteners the next year — and when the 139 members of the current junior class graduates in 2013-14, only 70 Kindergarteners are expected to enter the district.
Dubik and the board of education also keep a close eye on the live-birth rates from the area, in order to gauge future numbers of incoming students. Although about 64 children that live within district lines are home schooled and 88 attend private schools, he said the numbers are inconsequential because the ages range throughout all grades.
As fewer children are born and fewer families move into the district, it seems the trend of declining enrollment will continue.
“What we’re not seeing is 20 new Kindergarteners or 20 new first-graders. We’re not seeing enough to add sections,” Dubik said. “Out of the 95 homes sold in Cazenovia last year, 20 percent of those have kids … We’re not seeing any growth. The help that we need is from our local representatives in the town and village.”
Dubik thinks the solution lies with the inclusion of new, lower-priced housing, aimed at attracting young families to the area. He said the new affordable-housing developments in Chittenango have helped the school district see an increase in enrollment and growth of the tax base. A number of teachers, currently employed at Cazenovia schools, are new residents of Chittenango.
“The village shares the school district’s concern about declining enrollment,” said Cazenovia Village Mayor Kurt Wheeler. “Our schools are at the core of our community and declining enrollment over the long term will impact the viability of programming that is valued not only by our students but our entire population. We hope to work with the school on several fronts to reverse this trend. Our community survey initiative is designed to identify the items most important to our quality of life in order to preserve and enhance them. Our desire is to make Cazenovia the most desirable community in Central New York in which to live. When a family moves to the greater Syracuse area, we want Cazenovia to be their first choice. We also hope to improve the climate for economic development to create jobs and grow our tax base while increasing our inventory of moderately-priced homes.”
Because of lower numbers in the elementary school, the district has decreased the number of sections to five. Dubik said if trends continue as they are projected, the district may possibly have to decrease each grade by one section in the coming years. Over the course of 12 years, each grade would lose one instructor.
Currently, there are about seven empty classrooms in Burton Street, which are occasionally used for teleconferencing and group projects. Dubik said the district has begun to consider temporarily renting out the space to area organizations with compatible schedules, such as BOCES.
At the Jan. 23 Cazenovia Board of Education meeting, the board discussed the possibility of reorganizing the district, and cutting poorly-attended electives in the high school.
Dubik said the district could reformat to accommodate Kindergarten through fifth grade in the elementary school, seventh and eighth grades in the middle school and ninth through twelfth grades in the high school. Alternatively, Kindergarten through eighth grade could be assigned to one academic building while ninth through twelfth populate the high school.
While the idea of reorganization is still being weighed, the board is examining which electives regularly have fewer than 10 students enrolled, and possible ways to continue to offer the same curriculum while merging similar classes. So far, no plans to cut any electives have been made.
“The challenge for the school board is to maintain quality programs that are appropriate for the size and needs of our student body. We try to look at least five years ahead with our facility and personnel plans to minimize the impact of changes on the students. Over the next year, we will be actively seeking community input on possible school reconfiguration plans that will give us the best use of our facilities given our expected future enrollment and program plans,” said Cazenovia Board of Education President Fritz Koennecke. “In order to reverse our enrollment trend, it is my hope that we can continue to improve our already excellent schools. At the same time we have to continue to find ways to keep our costs and taxes low. As young families look for a great place to raise their children, Cazenovia should clearly stand out at the top of their list.”
Pierce Smith is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at 434-8889 ext. 338 or firstname.lastname@example.org