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As Long as We Remember...

January 21, 2005

School Enrollment: Have A Dog In This Hunt?

Alan Imhoff

Back in my August 23, 2004, article entitled "School Daze, Dear Old Golden Rue Daze," I gave a quick background on the annual projections for the Frederick County Public Schools enrollment. In the article I mentioned that assumptions used by any entity would heavily influence their projection methods.

Further, I stated I have been developing a model since 1994 that has reached a system-wide accuracy level of 99.9%. That model, for the September 2004 school year, projected an increase of 354 more students. Actually 854 more were enrolled, so I missed by 500.

However, in researching why such a wide difference, I uncovered that my model had not included the new schools of Tuscarora Elementary or Monocacy Valley Montessori Middle School. When those were removed my error was a minus 0.48%; with them in it was a plus 1.33%. Close enough to about a 99% accuracy.

So, what does my model say for September 30th of this year?

When I ran the model on October 18th, with the new schools included, FCPS will grow at least by 1.98% by September 30, 2005, or 761 new students, for a total of 39,265 equated enrollment.

FCPS in its Master Facilities Plan had made a projection of 39,540 two years ago so I feel the model still is holding its own.

As with any model, some analysis of the past projection needs to be done to determine if any adjustments need to be made. Over the next few months I will be taking a look at the projections to find out if any adjustments need to be made.

One item I look at will be the 16 schools that exceeded enrollment projections by more than 5%: they were Brunswick, Sabillasville, Emmitsburg, Parkway, South Frederick, Yellow Springs, Waverly, Myersville, Wolfsville, Urbana, New Midway and Lewistown Elementary schools; Monocacy, West Frederick and Crestwood Middle, as well as Tuscarora High School.

Some of the above are a result of redistricting; but most reflect the areas of most housing sales. Notice I did not say new home sales.

Why? Fully 80% or more of all home sales in the county are existing homes, less than 1 in 5 is a newly constructed home. When the subtle shift in demographics of the newer residents who have no or fewer children is added in, projections in enrollment for individual schools becomes a little trickier.

One factor may be that those with younger families are moving out of existing neighborhoods to the outlying areas in the northern and southern end of the county in order to afford the larger homes needed for a growing family.

The high-priced homes in the Villages of Urbana and elsewhere where substantial new homes are being constructed seem to be attracting the younger families migrating from the east. The empty nesters are a growing segment as well, moving around with these shifts within school feeder areas causing a minor but growing influence on the numbers of children who show up on the first day of the school year.

A significant part of my model is the tracking done by high school feeder area. Most models will follow traditional methods of following cohorts by elementary, middle and high school populations with influence factors from issued housing permits.

Doing this by high school feeder has been complicated by the repeated shifts caused by redistricting. However, of the nine high school feeder areas, my model has seven feeders within a plus or minus 2% error factor. Of the remaining two, Frederick and Tuscarora, the model overestimated Frederick feeder by 4.8% while underestimating Tuscarora by 12.6%. So, while by individual school the model needs adjusting, the system-wide error I mentioned earlier was underestimated by 1.33%.

So what does this all mean?

It means the school system as a whole will be somewhere around 96 or 97% of Equated Capacity. However, as has been the case since public schools first came into existence here in the United States, most will function below capacity, while a few will be over capacity. These over capacity schools will be those influenced by new housing starts as well as those schools in established neighborhoods as demographics change.

In addition, as long as the State of Maryland keeps changing the requirements for what constitutes usage square footage for instructional space, we will continually have changes in equated capacity. So, the argument of overcrowded schools is expected to continue well into the next millennium.

My argument has been, is and will continue to be: what is worse, a building at 100% capacity or classrooms at 150%? As long as we continue to focus on the building capacity, the real issue in the classroom will never be addressed.

So, whether it is 761 more students or 1,200, does it make any difference?

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