Milford school enrollment drops, but less than expected

Superintendent of Schools Anna Cutaia.

Superintendent of Schools Anna Cutaia.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — Milford Public Schools presently has 5,373 students throughout its district — a number lower than a year ago, but not as low as what was predicted for the same time period.

Superintendent of Schools Anna Cutaia, at the Board of Education meeting last week, asked the board to consider the enrollment under three lenses. The lens of actual enrollment of Oct. 1, 2021, compared to Oct. 1, 2020, the actual enrollment compared to projections and a year-to-year retention.

The Elementary schools have the most students coming in at 2,468. The high schools are at 1,662. The middle schools are at 1,243, and Pre-K is at 228 students.

“If we were going to talk about the actual 10/1/20 and 10/1/21, we are down by only 24 students,” said Cutaia. “We anticipated that number to be significantly lower based on projections.”

The state of Connecticut requires local school districts to file their Oct. 1 enrollment data. MPS uses the enrollment data as the basis for budget planning for the next school year.

“If you take a look at this level by level, we actually have 53 more elementary students this year, Oct. 1 to Oct. 1,” Cutaia said. “We have a decrease at the middle and a decrease of 59 students at the high school.”

At the elementary level, the school with the most student population is Orange Avenue with 343 students, followed by Mathewson with 327 students, Orchard Hills with 310 students, J.F. Kennedy with 297 students, Meadowside with 287 students, Calf Pen with 254 students and Pumpkin Delight with 194 students.

Fourth grade has the most students with 387, followed by fifth grade with 382, second grade with 369, first grade with 362, kindergarten with 361 and third grade with 355 students.

At the high school level, Jonathan Law High School has the most students with 835, followed by Joseph A. Foran High School with 785 students, The Academy with 27 students and Parsons Programs with 15 students.

Ninth grade has the most students with 434, followed by 12th grade with 430 students, 10th grade with 405 students and 11th grade with 393 students.

At the middle school level, West Shore has the most student population with 418 students. East Shore has a total of 415 students, and Harborside with 410 students.

The sixth-grade level is the largest class with 415 students, and both seventh and eighth-grade classes are at 414 students.

Looking at the number under the second lens of actual enrollment compared to projections, Cutaia said when they met with their demographers last year, there was a wild card on what the pandemic was doing to housing and family migration.

“I believe all demographers, whether they admitted it to you or not, really struggled through being predictive in nature around what enrollment would look like,” Cutaia said. “It felt like there were a lot of families moving in with houses selling, so in our projections, we were 21 students above the projection.”

Cutaia said in November 2019, they made a presentation to the board of education that shared what enrollment would look like over the next eight to 10 years.

“At that time, we talked about a decline of enrollment, and while it would be declining, there was a prediction that it would level off a bit,” she said. “So we were predicting few students enrolled in Milford Public Schools way before the pandemic hit. So I don’t want anyone walking away thinking this reduction in enrollment is a new phenomenon. It is something that was predicted before the pandemic.”

Using the third lens, Cutaia said she took a look at the students enrolled last year and compared them to if they moved up to the next year.

“If you take last year's K-4 kids, and you compare them with the numbers in 1-5, we’ve actually gone up 33 kids,” she said. “Last year's kindergarten to this year's first grade 347 to 362, we actually gained first graders. First graders to second grade, we lost 10 kids. Second grade to third, we increased 13; third to fourth, we stayed the same, and from fourth to fifth an additional 15.”

“Cohort retention to me demonstrates that we actually have 33 more kids in our elementary if you look at it cohort to cohort,” Cutaia added. “The story is the same at the middle school. We have an additional 17 kids if you look at 5-7 and 6-8 this year. The story is not as positive at the high school. We had from 8-11, 1,689 and from 11-12, this year, we had 1662. So that’s a decrease of 27 kids.”

Cutaia said she took a look at the number of students being home-schooled this year.

“We went from 38 homes school students to 66 last year,” she said. “While this year is a little better, if you recall only two short months ago, there was still a high level of anxiety of wearing a mask or not wearing a mask, are we going to social distance or not, what are the mitigating strategies,” Cutaia continued. “This year home school number is 63, the number went down. There is not fleeing out of Milford Public Schools to home school.”

Going one step further, Cutaia said she looked at what people are concerned about of the departure from the public school system to private schools.

“Based on the number of records request we received to leave Milford Public Schools to go to (St. Mary School) was 15,” she said. “Based on our records, 26 kids who enrolled at Saint Mary’s last year came to Milford Public Schools this year. There is no data to support a fleeing out of our schools.”

On the high school side, Cutaia said 11 percent of freshmen decided not to attend a high school in Milford Public Schools.

“The number of freshman going to a private school is down to 19 freshmen,” she said.