Some Fayette schools escape numbers decline

Chart of enrollments at Fayette County schools, past, present and expected future. Source: Fayette County School System. Chart/The Citizen.

Fayette County schools rode a wave of seemingly unstoppable growth prior to the 2007 recession. That growth stalled in 2008 and resulted in decreasing enrollment that continues today and, according to a study by the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia, may well continue for another decade.

The full results of a 10-year enrollment study of the Fayette County School System was released last week. The study results show the school system projected to lose another 8.1 percent of its students over the next decade, with the greatest decrease in enrollment coming in the middle and high schools grades with enrollment inching up in the elementary grades.

More than that, the study shows the enrollment pattern on a school-by-school basis beginning in 2001 and extending through 2021. The study, if projections hold true, shows that Fayette schools will have lost more than two decades of growth by 2021.

Fayette schools had a total enrollment of 20,316 in 2001. The study shows that the school system added approximately 250-700 students during each of the following years through 2006. It was in 2006 that the all-time high enrollment of 22,242 occurred.

The slide that began in 2007 has continued since that time with current enrollment numbers placed at 20,296, with Fayette having lost 773 students just since last year.

The study projects the downward trend to continue over the next decade with the school system enrolling a relatively smaller number of students each year, especially in the next five years, through the end of the study period when Fayette is expected to see an enrollment of 18,647 in 2021.

That represents a drop of 1,649 students from the current enrollment number.

It was in the 2002-2007 time frame that three elementary schools, one middle school and one high school were opened to meet the needs of the then-rapidly growing Fayette County School System.

The enrollment study tracked the enrollment on a school-by-school basis from 2001 through 2021, thereby providing a 10-year enrollment history and a 10-year enrollment projection. That information is provided in the chart at right.

Superintendent Jeff Bearden at the Oct. 17 meeting of the Fayette County Board of Education said the methodology for the study was four-fold.

The study looked at birth rates supplied by the Georgia Dept. of Community Health, current enrollment numbers, historic trends in both Fayette County and Georgia and state and national birth rates during recessionary period and during the Great Depression.

Bearden said birth rates during recessions and the depression typically decline before beginning to rise after two years. The enrollment study indicates such a trend.

Bearden referring to the study said he was pleasantly surprised that the projected numbers did not show more of a decrease than the estimated 8.1 percent over the next 10 years.

That makes sense given the dramatically higher enrollment numbers that have continued to decline each year for the past half-decade, a loss of approximately 2,000 students in the past five years, compared to the 10-year projection that shows an average of 165 fewer students per year.

But there is more that has not been stated. Given the current enrollment numbers compared to 2001, that means that Fayette to date has lost a decade of growth in the past five years but, perhaps more importantly, and assuming the study data is correct, the school system by 2021 will have lost more than two decades of growth.

The projected enrollment for 2021 is 18,647 while the enrollment in 2001 was 20,316. If the projection holds true, that would put Fayette’s enrollment in 2021 back at the level not seen since the late 1990s and would essentially wipe out nearly a quarter-century of growth in the school system.