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March 26, 2014NORTH FULTON, Ga. – Board of Education members from North Fulton are questioning enrollment projections that forecast fewer than 800 new students into area schools over the next five years, saying the rise in new construction does not support the low numbers.
By the 2018-19 school year, enrollment in North Fulton is projected to increase by 795 students, going from 50,201 students this year to 50,996 over five years.
In contrast, South Fulton could add nearly 4,300 new students and Sandy Springs an additional 2,067 students in the same time frame.
The five-year enrollment projections were released during a March 11 meeting of the Fulton Board of Education and are used for future construction/renovation planning.
"The enrollment drives so many of our processes, both within the general and capital [construction] fund," said Patrick Burke, deputy superintendent of operations. "So think of [enrollment projections] as a chapter in a book, and an early chapter…we've got several chapters to go."
But for Fulton Board of Education members Katie Reeves of Alpharetta and Linda McCain of Johns Creek, this chapter is a bit thin.
More than 4,000 housing units in various stages of development in North Fulton are currently being tracked by school planners. Adding to that, Reeves says are the many empty-nesters who are on the cusp of moving.
"We have a large number of neighborhoods with people who have kids in their 20s and they've been just waiting for the market to recover to sell their house," said Reeves. "So I'm not sure the assumption of shrinking [growth] is entirely accurate."
For school system planners, it's hard to argue with success. Since revising their forecasting methodology 14 years ago, the system has been extremely precise in projecting enrollment. Last year, system planners came within a tenth of 1 percent in projecting a population of just over 95,000 students this year.
Yngrid Huff, director of planning for Fulton Schools, said the school system uses the SchoolSite forecasting model used in 170 school districts nationwide. The system looks at existing students as they move from grade to grade, residential development and land use, as well as student migration and private school returns.
Enrollment is expected to slow in North Fulton through 2018, said Huff, particularly in the lower grades.
"The annual growth of 282 students last year [in North Fulton schools] was the smallest growth the region has experienced in the last 10 years," said Huff. "Smaller incoming classes are replacing graduating classes, which causes the region to appear more stagnant in growth."
She noted total enrollment in kindergarten classes is 800 students smaller on average than the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th grade classes.
But Reeves maintains the sheer number of new housing developments raises concerns about the accuracy of the numbers over time.
"We have a lot of unplanned-for growth that is coming down the pike, and I do believe our numbers, particularly our high school numbers are very low," said Reeves. "I'm not sure I'm in total agreement [with the projections]."