In the past 14 years, public school enrollment in the Adirondack Park has declined by about one-quarter. The average enrollment decline was an unceasing 2% annually for the period. Over the past five years, enrollment has declined at a pace closer to 2.5%. Two schools have closed and the districts now pay tuition for their students to attend adjacent districts. Several other districts are in some phase of the merger process, an outcome of soaring per-student costs and declining enrollments.
While these issues are familiar throughout upstate New York, there may be a greater cause for concern for districts within or divided by the Blue Line. In the 12-county region that includes the Park, estimated “Inside the Park” enrollment declines were more than twice the estimated losses “Outside the Park” over the past decade (Figure 12A). All 119 school districts in this 12-county region can be seen in Figure 13.
In the 12-county Adirondack Region shown in Figure 13, there are 59 public school districts wholly outside the Park, 32 districts divided by the Blue Line and 28 districts wholly within the Park. The State Education Department (NYSED) tracks total enrollment for these Lake Pleasant Central School District school districts, but not whether students live inside or outside the Blue Line. For the purposes of this report, a district divided by the Blue Line may also be referred to as a Blue Line district.
To provide an accurate count of students living inside the Park, APRA 2014 conducted a survey of the 32 districts that are divided by the Blue Line. This survey, undertaken in June 2013, enlisted the support of the transportation directors of the respective districts. These individuals have a remarkable awareness of where hundreds, if not thousands, of students reside. Using this knowledge, along with route-tracking software, street level mapping and aerial photographs, determinations were made as to student residency relative to the Blue Line. The surveys often took several hours, and in some cases days, to complete. More than 34,000 students were considered and 6,592 were found to live in the Park. The accuracy of these surveys eclipses any prior efforts to determine in-park school enrollments. There is an assumption that the 2013 ratio of in-park students/total enrollment for Blue Line districts has remained somewhat constant over the past ten years. Estimates and trending for all prior period analyses are based on this assumption.*
The map in Figure 13 shows 10-year enrollment changes for the 60 public school districts having students that reside in the Park.** The white areas of each county include the districts wholly outside the Park. Over the past 10 years, the average enrollment decline for these districts was just under 9%. The school districts wholly or partially in the Park saw declines that were typically much larger.
- 10 districts had losses of 30% or more
- 21 districts had losses of 20-30%
- 22 districts had losses of 9-20%
- 7 districts had losses (<9%) that were less than districts outside the Park. These include the yellow shaded districts of Newcomb and Lake Pleasant, which had enrollment gains during the decade.
In 1999, public school enrollment within the Park is estimated to have been 20,750 students, and it was declining at an average pace of 222 students per year. Since 2003, the pace of decline has increased to an average of 422 students per year. Total Park enrollment declined from a estimated 19,862 students in 2003 to the current total of 15,638 in June of 2013. The ratio of K-12 enrollment to total population is 18% nationally and only 12% in the Park.
Figure 12B provides a more detailed look at 10-year enrollment declines in the 12-county area. A comparison of districts that are wholly within the Park with districts that are wholly outside of the Park reveals an even greater disparity of enrollments. Instead of having twice the pace of decline, it is two and a half times greater.
The destiny of many Adirondack school districts shown in Figure 15 can be seen in the comparison of a departing senior class (149) to an arriving kindergarten (94). In these examples, there would be an expected loss of 55 students from the districts. The actual total loss of enrollment over the past year was 158 students for these five school districts. This suggests that a large component of enrollment loss during the school year cannot be foreseen.
In the late 1800s, the Adirondack forest was being logged at an unsustainable pace. These actions resulted in the creation of the Forest Preserve, the Adirondack Park and constitutional protection for both. The loss of K-12 enrollment in the Park is now on a similar pace, yet there has been little public concern outside the Park.
For a look at Adirondack Park school district enrollments 2012-2013, see Figure 14.
Enrollment Declines at the Local Level
APRA 2014 has projected that K-12 public school enrollment in the Adirondack Park peaked in the late 1990s at approximately 21,000 students. From 1998-99 to 2002-03, school enrollments declined at a estimated rate of 222 students annually. From 2002-03 until 2012-13, the estimated rate of decline has increased to 422 students per year, resulting in actual enrollment in June 2013 of 15,638 students in the Adirondack Park.
From the late 1990s to the present, the country has seen three economic expansions and two recessions. For the most part, school districts shown in this image suffered declining enrollments throughout the period.
The charts were obtained from the website of The New York Center for Rural Schools at Cornell University and represent those school districts that are located wholly within the Adirondack Park. The charts show a consistent pattern of declining enrollments for most districts during the past decade. However, there are some notable exceptions. Inlet and Putnam are K-6 districts with relatively small enrollments to begin with. Lake Pleasant and Newcomb were the only districts with increased enrollments over the past 10 years. Lake Pleasant has seen recent enrollment increases due to the transfer of students resulting from the closing of a nearby school in Piseco. Newcomb’s growth has resulted from a community-wide effort to attract students from around the world.
The NYSED reports used in these charts contained data through 2011, while the APRA 2014 results shown in this section reflect the 2012-13 NYSED enrollment reports. In the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, the Park-wide enrollment declines were 453 students and 483 students, respectively.
* Enrollment data for each of the 119 school districts in these Twelve Counties can be sourced back to 1998-99 here.
** Saratoga Springs CSD and Lowville CSD have no students that are residents of the Park, but their districts extend into the Park. They are listed in Figure 13 as wholly outside the Park.