have fewer students on the rolls than they did last fall — the first such decline in more than 20 years.
That's according to Richard Huot, the district’s director of finance, who shared the figures at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting.
The district enrolled some 4,817 students from pre-K to twelfth grade as of Oct. 1, 2011. That's a decline of 24 students from the 4,841 students who attended on on Oct. 1, 2010. Administrators had predicted student enrollment to increase to 4,871 this fall.
Huot pointed to the economic recession as a factor contributing to the dip but emphasized that the numbers should be taken in context.
“Before people ask ‘Are you going to close schools?’ take it easy and let the data tell the story,” Huot said. “This enrollment projection is the tightest I have seen in my career. When you look at [a shortfall of] 54 students across seven schools and 13 grades, that is not bad. That means we project our finances pretty accurately to meet the needs of the youngsters we are serving.”
The drop in enrollment marks the first decline since 1989, when enrollment shrank to 2,652 from 2,658 the year before. Conversely, Darien enrolled more students in 2010-2011 than during any time since 1976-1977, when the district recorded 4,904 students.
“Darien is an attractive town for raising children,” Huot said.
Huot provided enrollment figures dating all the way back to 1951, when the district educated 2,825 pupils. The rolls grew quickly through 1963, with enrollment burgeoning to 5,130 students. The figure remained close to 5,000 until 1973 and then shrank every year through 1989.
In response to growing student enrollment in the 1990s and over the past decade, the district rebuilt , expanded , and reopened . Huot said he will devise new formulas to predict upcoming kindergarten classes for the next four years as a result of the current drop.
Still, a change from one year to another does not amount to a trend, Huot said.
“We will see what the future holds as time goes on,” he added.