Schools see unexpected enrollment dip for 2nd year

SOUTHWICK — Superintendent Jennifer Willard told a joint budget roundtable meeting of town officials from Southwick, Tolland and Granville on Thursday evening that the regional school district has seen a significant decline in enrollment over the last two school years.

Willard said that over the course of two school years, the district’s total enrollment dropped by 127 students, with much of the blame levied on the pandemic. From the 2019-20 school year to the 2020-21 school year, the district saw a decrease of 93 students. From that school year to the 2021-22 school year, Willard said that she was shocked to find a further decrease of 34 students.

As of now, there are 1,359 students enrolled in the district. Willard said that she was fully expecting to see an increase in enrollment from last year to this year, rather than a decrease. Over the course of the pandemic, some parents sought to pull their students from public schools to either mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spread, or to attend nearby private schools.

“A lot of students who live in this district go to Westfield Technical Academy, Pope Francis, or choose School Choice enrollments,” said Willard.

She noted that across all three communities covered by the school district, 64 students are being homeschooled.

Willard also told the joint committee, consisting of select board members from all three towns, as well as the full Regional School Committee, that the mandatory local contribution for each community will increase from what had previously been assessed for each town.

Southwick’s assessed contribution for fiscal 2022 was $9,078,342, but will actually end up being $9,206,158, an increase of $127,816 and the most significant percentage and dollar-amount increase of the three communities. Because Southwick is the largest of the three communities and provides the most students, it has the largest mandatory contribution by far.

Some of Southwick’s increase will be offset by $86,351 in ESSER II funds from the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

Granville’s contribution to the district was originally assessed at $1,469,462 and was later found to actually be $1,476,110, an increase of $6,648.

Tolland’s contribution was assessed at $391,281 but was raised by $687 to $391,968.

Willard said that the Chapter 70 foundation budget, which are funds provided to school districts by the state, increased by 1.4 percent in fiscal 2022 and are expected to see a relatively significant increase of 4 to 5 percent due to inflation in fiscal 2023. Those figures will not be known for sure until late January, when the state releases its figures.

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