Study foresees drop in school enrollment

BAR HARBOR — Elementary school enrollment in Bar Harbor, Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor will decline over the next 10 years, while it will increase slightly in Tremont and stay virtually the same in Trenton.

Those are among the key predictions of a study conducted for the Mount Desert Island Regional School System by Bruce Mayberry, a demographic analyst and planning consultant based in Yarmouth.

Superintendent Marc Gousse commissioned the study with the approval of the school board to assist school and town officials in planning for school programming, staffing and facility needs over the next decade.

Along with a decline in elementary school enrollment, Mayberry projects a drop in the number of Mount Desert Island High School students between now and 2024 and then a gradual increase over the following five years.

With an eye toward the possible creation of a district-wide middle school, Mayberry projects that the number of seventh- and eighth-grade students will decline over the next three years, then increase over the following five years before falling again. There are currently 227 students in those two grades across the school district.

Mayberry presented an overview of his findings at the school system board meeting Monday night. He said he began the study by looking at enrollment numbers and trends over the past 10 years. He acknowledged the limitations of that, saying, “Ten-year projections are inherently unreliable because they rely on recent trends.”

But he also factored in birth trends, the aging of the population and population growth or decline.

He also looked at recent housing market factors such as new construction, home sales and prices and the percentage of seasonal versus year-round homes.

Mayberry said the school enrollment projections are based heavily on what he calls “grade progression ratio,” which is a comparison of the number of students in one grade with the number in the next higher grade the following year. If that number goes up, “that means there was some net in-migration,” he said.

His projections show a gradual but definite decline in K-8 enrollment in Bar Harbor and Mount Desert over the next 10 years.

“Southwest Harbor shows a plateau over three years and then a possible decline,” he said.

He noted that Bar Harbor, Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor are “the three most expensive towns to live in in terms of purchasing a house.”

“For Tremont, there is some indication of potential growth [in enrollment],” Mayberry said.

The projection for Trenton is for an initial increase and then a very slight decline.

“Overall, for the K-8 enrollment, the curve is downward,” Mayberry said.

That would continue a trend that began more than a decade ago.

A big unknown that could influence the school enrollment projections is the amount of affordable workforce housing that will be created over the next few years.

“There has not been much of it in the past, but there may be more of it in the near future,” he said.

If more young families can afford to live on MDI, he said, the resulting increase in the number of school-age children might offset if not reverse the projected decline in school enrollments.

“I see it as a potential leveling effect, to bring you back to today’s enrollment 10 years from now.”

Mayberry said he compared his school enrollment projections to the long-term demographic changes projected for Hancock County as a whole, and they line up pretty well.

At the end of his presentation, he said, “I’ve given you all of the scientific stuff and then I told you why you shouldn’t believe any of it because of all these variables that we have to deal with.

“But … what gives some comfort is that the county numbers just happen to align with some of our projections.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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