Amherst Schools see shrinking enrollment, odd trends

By Jason Hawk -

While some grades are seeing odd bubbles, the Amherst Schools still tracking a decline in overall enrollment.

“Our enrollment trend will most likely continue to decline over the next four or five years,” superintendent Steven Sayers told the board of education in an Aug. 13 presentation.

In May, there were 3,721 total students enrolled. As of the board meeting, there were 3,665.

Larger classes are graduating and — for the most part — smaller ones are moving up.

Amherst is not unique in this regard. All of Ohio is experiencing a gradual drop-off in students.

Public school headcounts dropped by about 10,500 from October 2016 to October 2017, about a half-percent. Since 2010, they’ve declined by nearly 93,000, or five percent.

State statistics show that while Ohio’s population is expected to hold steady in the next decade, it’s also getting older on average. The birth rate has slowed since 1990, leading enrollment to do the same.

But here’s where it gets weird: In Amherst, tracking shows the decline is anything but consistent from year to year and grade to grade.

For example, the biggest drop is the eighth grade class at Amherst Junior High that is 80 students smaller than last year’s. Meanwhile, the first grade at Powers Elementary is up by 20 students and fifth through seventh grades have all gotten a little enrollment boost this year.

At Steele High School, the next four graduating classes number in the 300s — the Class of 2019 stands to graduate up to 334. But after today’s freshmen receive their diplomas in 2023, a huge drop-off in size is expected down to about 250.

It’s rare to see a district with such drastically different numbers in K-8 compared to at the high school level, according to Sayers.

If the trend continues, Amherst will lose 60 to 100 students per year, which works out to 1,000 students over a 12- to 15-year period.

The Class of 2031 — this year’s kindergartners — numbers just 211, though it could potentially grow through families moving into the district and open enrollment.

Sayers said the numbers are important when considering staffing. A drop of 50 or so students means two or three fewer teachers, an adjustment considered each year to keep the operating budget in check.

“If you look at the history of the district, this is not uncommon,” he said. Enrollment has been cyclical in the past half-century, losing mass as families grew older and gaining again when new homes and schools were built.

The new Powers Elementary on South Lake Street is almost certain to provide a boost. It’s arguably behind extremely brisk home sales in the district this summer.

On the other hand, Amherst is almost completely built out, with little remaining acreage for residential development. Northpointe Estates is nearly complete and two subdivisions under construction now — the Preserve at Quarry Lakes and Reserve at Beaver Creek, both on the city’s north side — aren’t being marketed toward families with school-age children.

Still, Sayers believes the current projections may show the Amherst Schools reaching the bottom point in the enrollment cycle, ready to once more swing upward.

School board president Teresa Gilles and member Ron Yacobozzi each commented on being prepared for the trend to reverse. They said the new Powers building and other projects are aimed at providing enough space for larger classes.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk