By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Despite a soft housing market, Loudoun County public school enrollment this fall is higher than school officials had predicted, according to figures released last week.
A Sept. 17 census showed a schoolwide population of 53,871, or 3,393 more students than last year. That's about 500 more than officials had expected. Because of late enrollment, the difference will probably be closer to 600 when the official count is issued this week, officials said.
Enrollment projections are used to calculate operating budgets and plan school staffing. School planners come up with the projections by studying employment and real estate figures, but in this case those numbers were deceiving.
"Last year we knew we were heading into a slump in the housing market . . . and by spring, the housing market had really stopped, so we tried to be as conservative as possible. But this year comes around, and guess what? We are way up," said Sam C. Adamo, the school system's director of planning and legislative services.
According to the most recent housing market trends reported by the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development, 644 homes were sold in June, down 20 percent from the same month the previous year.
The school district's prediction of a 5.8 percent increase in enrollment for this school year was conservative, given that enrollment in Loudoun has increased by an average of 9 percent per year over the past decade.
In trying to explain why this year's student count is exceeding projections, Adamo surmised that perhaps parents who have sent -- or had planned to send -- their children to private school are feeling pinched financially and opted for public school. Most of the unanticipated growth came in some unusual places: in first and 10th grades, followed by ninth grade and kindergarten.
But numbers are up this fall at Loudoun Country Day School in Leesburg, a private school that serves about 270 kindergartners through eighth-graders, said Randy Hollister, head of the school. He said that inquiries were up over the summer and that the school had to open an extra section of kindergarten.
And at Leesburg Christian School, with about 200 students in kindergarten through 12th-grade, enrollment is up by as many as 30 students, said office assistant Lynn Mosteller.
Overall, the impact of 600 extra students across a 53,000-student school system can be absorbed within the current operating budget, said Sharon D. Ackerman, assistant superintendent for instruction.
Much of the unexpected growth is in public schools in the Ashburn area. Enrollment at Belmont Ridge Middle, for example, is more than 100 students higher than predicted.
Ackerman said school officials were watching registration figures rise at Belmont Ridge over the summer and added teachers to accommodate the surge.
Systemwide, officials will probably need to hire about eight extra teachers to accommodate the additional students.
Enrollment at several elementary schools in western Loudoun was lower than projected, as it was at Harmony Intermediate School in Hamilton. But Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville, which is operating over capacity, has 69 more students than projected, according to the Sept. 17 census.