VALPARAISO | While enrollment in Valparaiso Community Schools will increase slightly in the next five years, it is expected to decline beyond that, a demographics expert said Tuesday.
Jerome McKibben, president of McKibben Demographic Research, presented the results of a demographic study to School Board members at a meeting at Flint Lake Elementary School.
The board hired the South Carolina-based firm to conduct the study, which will help the district with facilities planning for its eight elementary schools, two middle schools, high school and the Porter County Career and Technical Education School.
McKibben studied a variety of factors, including census figures, fertility rates, housing statistics and householder characteristics to develop a 10-year forecast of student population patterns by geographic area.
He forecast total enrollment to increase by 50 students, or 0.8 percent, between 2013 and 2018. Between 2018 and 2023, enrollment will decline by 71 students, or 1.1 percent, he said.
A balance between aging households and the influx of families ages 25 to 34 will cause the district's enrollment to remain stable in the short term, McKibben said.
However, a fertility rate below replacement levels and the aging of existing families will result in a continued decline of enrollment after 2020, he said.
“Only 30 percent of homes in Valparaiso have kids under 18,” McKibben said. “The national average is 35 percent.”
Even if the district continues to have an increasing level of new home construction, the rate of existing home sales will become the increasingly dominant factor affecting the amount of population and enrollment change, McKibben said.
If the interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage rises above 5.5 percent, or the unemployment rate tops 9.5 percent, it would hurt the housing market and have a negative drag on the forecasts, McKibben said.
Valparaiso School Board Vice President James Jorgensen asked if the district should expect to either build new schools or close schools based on the findings in the study.
McKibben said while enrollment will be relatively stable, the location of schools does not match where the majority of students live.
The north side of town will increasingly be populated by empty nesters, and the majority of young families and school-age children will live in the vicinity of Lincolnway, McKibben said.
Based on those statistics, building a new school just south of U.S. 30, directly south of where Central Elementary now exists, is something to consider, he said.
Superintendent Michael Berta said McKibben's study and a facility feasibility study by Gibraltar Design Inc. of Indianapolis will help the board make informed decisions in facility planning.
Gibraltar's report is expected to be completed in December.