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School officials are seeking answers to falling enrollment

Fewer students are attending East Aurora schools a common theme at many area districts, where enrollment continues on a downward slide.

For this school year, 1,890 students attend kindergarten through 12th grades in the district. The number reflects a consistent downward trend from 1,933 students last school year and down from 1,963 students in 2009-10. Even in the 2008-09 year, enrollment was just shy of 2,000 -- at 1,983.

"We're seeing a slight downward trend in enrollment, about 20 students and picking up to 30 over the last few years," said Director of Special Education Jerome Polakiewicz. "It is a steady downward trend, which will make an impact on the whole district."

"We're trending down, no question about it," said high school principal Jay Hoagland.

The primary concern is for the district to stabilize and over the next few years, remain in a holding pattern and hope that eventually the numbers begin to climb, school officials said.

Kindergarten enrollment for this year is at 85 students, down from 114 a year ago. It is projected to rise back to 111 in coming years.

The district is in the midst of ramping up for moving to full-day kindergarten beginning next fall. Enrollment numbers are not getting in the way of that.

"We were one of the few districts with half-day kindergarten. We're hoping for parents that were looking for child care for their children and half-day kindergarten wasn't an option for them -- those folks that had previously gone to day care and nannies, that may have their kids come to kindergarten," Polakiewicz said. "As we move into private schools, we look at picking up some students there, given the state of the economy. But we still see an overall steady decline and that's true in non-public schools, as well."

"This is a trend throughout the state. It's a demographic shift that's occurring all over Western New York," School Board President Daniel Brunson said of the declining enrollment.

"Our district has made a decision to go forward with full-day kindergarten -- regardless of the continued decline, which is projected to continue."

Brunson underscored the bigger problem -- the projected $1.7 million budget gap the district faces. "That obviously will not be solved by staff cuts due to declining enrollment. As high as the budget gap is, that's a much more significant problem," he said.

Brunson said the enrollment numbers were something that was expected. "The projections we got are in line with what I thought they would be," he said. "However, we certainly would like to see it turn around and go the other way. We certainly have the resources to handle more students."

"I think we were even lower than this at one time or another. It's certainly the lowest in the last few years. It was around 2,000 for a number of years," he said. "East Aurora is a pretty stable place. The difference is there are changes in the demographics in terms of ages of people.