The Columbia County school board Tuesday approved elementary enrollment projections for next school year that show slower growth than in years past.
For the 2012-13 school year, school officials expect an increase of 387 elementary pupils, 56 fewer than this year’s increase, along with 213 more pupils in middle schools and 387 more high schoolers.
“We’re clearly experiencing a decline in the birth rate,” Superintendent Charles Nagle told the board last month regarding the uncharacteristic decline in elementary enrollment growth.
As evidence, Nagle presented to the board Columbia County birth rate totals dating back to 1987. The rate peaked at 1,537 in 2006. Since then, those numbers have dropped to 1,444 in 2007, 1,464 in 2008 and 1,470 in 2009. Figures were not available for last year.
Birth rate figures are used by school officials to predict the number of potential kindergartners entering the school system five years later.
Another reason for the projections with smaller increases is the system’s new approach of just using the previous two years of enrollment growth to estimate future growth. In the past, school officials examined the previous four years of growth.
Last year, school officials over-projected kindergarten enrollment by 142 pupils using the four-year method.
Nagle said the two-year strategy provides a more conservative estimate.
Those figures are important because the number of pupils determines the number of teachers. The number of teachers drives the budget projections because about 90 percent of the budget is used to pay salaries.
The school system educates more than 24,000 students and employs about 1,700 educators.