City schools to see increase in suburban students

Experts project that New Haven will continue to attract an increasing number of students from surrounding suburbs and towns in the next five years, rapidly filling the newly-created spaces provided by an ongoing city building initiative.

To deal with the crowding of New Haven schools, the city has administered a $1.2 billion Citywide School Construction initiative for the past decade, which has successfully completed 21 new schools to date, New Haven Public Schools Communications Director Katherine Sullivan-DeCarlo said. But while the initiative will create space for roughly 25,000 students, Tomas Roger, the vice-president of Gilbane Construction, the firm overseeing the city school construction project, said there is no guarantee that the new spots will be adequate in eight years.

Roger said, however, that every effort is being made to ensure that students from all regions of the city will be accommodated. He said the project was designed to allow for an additional 10 percent capacity above the projected enrollment, in order to accommodate the possibility of higher growth as well as “bubbles” — years with an unexpectedly high birthrate.

“We don’t want to disadvantage people,” he said. “We are trying to have extra capacity available everywhere.”

Peter Prowda, an education consultant whose enrollment projections were used by the New Haven Board of Education to plan the city construction project, said total enrollment in New Haven is expected to increase to 22,465 in 2012, a significant increase from the 20,349 students attending New Haven’s schools in 2002. Some projections have placed that number even higher.

Enrollment projections consider many patterns, including population, birth rates and historical trends. The latest projections suggest New Haven public school enrollment in the next decade may top the enrollment peak of 21,882 in 1971.

Prowda said that the large projected increase is primarily due to growth in the number of students who attend schools in the district but live outside of New Haven. He said that by 2012, roughly 1,400 new non-residents are expected to add to the steadily growing number of students already attending New Haven’s public schools. He also said the number of resident students is projected to grow by around 700 by 2012.

New Haven’s rate of growth would have been similar to that of most cities, Prowda said, were it not for its “aggressive program for attracting non-residents.”

Yet Sullivan-DeCarlo said New Haven is not actively trying to attract students from outside New Haven.

“We had a magnet school program that started small and blossomed,” she said. “This resulted in a healthy mix of urban and suburban kids. Naturally, we are always attracting more and more non-residents.”

According to New Haven Public Schools’ Web site, the city has the largest magnet school program in the state.

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