Bucking statewide trend, 'bubble' of Belmont births could cause school crowding

BELMONT — A recently released demographic study commissioned by the Shaker Regional School District shows a spike in the 2007 birthrate may create a temporary increase in the number of students who will attend Belmont Elementary School.

Like a wave moving across a body of water, the impact could first be felt at the elementary level and then into the middle school, reaching its peak in 2017 and ebbing as it moves through the middle school and high school in 2021 and 2022.

The "bubble," said Superintendent Maria Dreyer at Tuesday's School Board meeting, could mean the number of students attending Belmont Elementary School in 2017 could be as high as 522. Capacity at Belmont Elementary School is 450, she added.

"We know we had a surge in the birthrate but what we don't know is if they're still in Belmont," Dreyer said. "We'll have to make some definite plans."

Every two years the district contracts for a demographic study. It draws on data from the 2010 census plus enrollment numbers through 2012 from the Shaker district and the N.H. Department of Education. Data such as historical, current, and projected birthrates as well as state and local population growth rate were also factors. Housing data is also a factor.

The study is done by Peter Hofman and Catharine Newick of Canterbury.

Included in Dreyer's suggestions for space was the possible shifting of the fifth grade classes from the Belmont Elementary School to the middle school and possible shift the eight grade from the middle school to the high school as the potential wave moves through.

Right now, Belmont Elementary School teaches kindergarten through 4th grade. Canterbury Elementary School houses kindergarten through 5th grade although Canterbury 5th graders are given the option to go to Belmont Middle School if they choose.

The biggest concern for board member Sean Embry was in the kindergarten and first grades where class size is very critical.

Dreyer said that if the students who are part of the 2007 and after spike enroll as projected, it could mean the temporary addition of three additional classes.

She also noted that the spike in Belmont's birthrates in 2007 and 2008 seems contrary to the 2010 census data that showed overall birthrates in New Hampshire are declining. In addition, the data seemingly contradicts current enrollment numbers which are shrinking.

"The district has seen enrollment decline since the 2002-2003 school year having dropped seven times in the past decade," said Hofman and Newick.

In addition, birthrates in Canterbury and Belmont since 2006 are going in opposite directions.

In Canterbury, births averaged 30 per year from 2002 to 2006 and dropped to 21 per year in 2007 through 2011. In Belmont, the birthrate averaged 63 per year in 2002 through 2006 but jumped to an average of 81 per year from 2007 to 2011.

The report says that statewide, the number of children under the age of 5 declined over the 10 year period between 2000 and 2010 with the exception of Belmont where the number increased by 13 percent.

School Board members had little to say after Dreyer presented them with the study, saying they would review the entire document before moving forward.

Chair Heidi Hutchinson said she would like to see the district continue having the demographic study done every two years.