School board members hear demographic study

Members of the Huntington County Community School Corporation Board of Trustees heard the results of a demographics study presented at its regular meeting on Monday, May 8, and although they were relieved by some of the findings, it still leaves them with a difficult decision.

Dr. Jerome McKibben of McKibben Demographic Research told the board that the district’s decline in enrollment is not due to students leaving the county to go to other schools, but by a decline in the community’s student population itself.

He said the primary factors causing the student levels to drop stem from a decline in the county’s child-bearing population, a limited number of homes for sale in the Huntington County market and the increase of “empty nest” households.

McKibben said only a third of the county’s households have children under the age of 18. Births are slightly declining, while the number of deaths is going up.

“(Age) 35 to 54 is where most households have children in school,” he explained. “But by 55 to 69, these are usually referred to as the ‘empty nest’ households … most of the households of school-aged kids in the district, those children are in middle school and high school, and it has been that for quite a while now.

“If no one had moved in and out (of the county), between 2010 and 2015, your elementary enrollment should have dropped by a couple hundred students. Why? Not because people are moving out; it’s smaller cohorts coming in.”

McKibben also forecast a slow but persistent decline in elementary enrollment after the 2016-17 school year.

Other points McKibben noted include:

• The resident total fertility rate for HCCSC over the life of the forecasts is below replacement level (incoming school children).

• Most in-migration to the district continues to occur in the birth-to-9 and 25-to-44 year old age groups.

• The local (non-college) 18-to-24 year old population continues to leave the district, going to college or moving to other urban areas, accounting for the largest segment of the district’s out-migration flow.

• The median age of the population will increase from 39.0 in 2010 to 42.3 in 2025.

• Even if the district continues to see a significant level of annual new home construction, the rate, magnitude and price of existing home sales will become the increasingly dominant factor affecting the number of population and enrollment change.

The district’s enrollment is on track to decrease by 299 students, or 5.8 percent, between 2016-17 and 2021-22, McKibben added.

Total enrollment will decline by 222 students, or 4.6 percent, from 2021-22 to 2026-27.

As the school board mulls over which school or schools to close in response to the decline in enrollment, McKibben admonished the members to take more factors into consideration before making a decision.

“You have to consider the geographic distribution of students in the building when you’re looking at this,” he said. “You have to do your due diligence from all of these factors — facilities, ed specs, administration, things like that and come to a conclusion.”

School Board President Matt Roth says the demographic report confirmed what many on the board and administration thought about the aging population in the county, with the birth rate not high enough to maintain or grow the current student population.

“One of the key numbers is the current population of our school corporation versus his projection 10 years from now, there is a loss of another 600 students,” Roth said. “Not because they’re moving or choosing to go to a different school corporation, but because we won’t have as many students living in Huntington County.”

Roth says the total school population was 5,782 during the 2011-2012 school year; this year there are 5,093 students, a drop of nearly 700 students. He says the report will play a helpful role in looking at the closures the board is considering. He said the report answers the question of whether the district has more facilities than it needs now.

“I think it’s an important piece to have as we start looking at our current facilities and our future needs,” he said. “Dr. McKibben said you have to also look at the condition of current facilities, future facility needs like repairs, and the age of our buildings and things like that. But I think it was pretty eye-opening to see the trends that he’s identified in terms of our population and his projections for our future population.”

Roth said the details of the study will be examined during the school board’s next public work session, which will occur Monday, May 15, at 6 p.m. at the Horace Mann Education Center, 2485 Waterworks Rd., Huntington.