Monday, May 10, 2021

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Madison Schools Project Enrollment Turnaround Based on Real Estate Boom, Other Factors

After many years of declining enrollment, Madison Public School District (MPS) is now laying out projections for a significant, relatively rapid turnaround, with up to a 12 percent increase in student population anticipated over the next decade.

SLR Consulting, an international firm based in the United Kingdom, built a model using birth, land use records, employment data, as well as other demographic trends to create what Superintendent of Schools Dr. Craig Cooke characterized as a window into likely significant changes in the district over the next decade or so.

Cooke introduced Michael Zuba, the consultant working for SLR who presented the projections, as a Madison parent himself.

After losing around 35 percent in total enrollment since 2008, Zuba said Madison should be expecting a reversal starting very soon, which is mostly fueled by a booming real estate market in 2020 and early 2021.

“Tracking through conversations with local realtors, the market is equally tight right now,” Zuba said.

Cooke previously told The Source that commissioning these projections was required by the state as part of the district’s plan to build a new elementary school, included in the school renewal plan that would see Ryerson and Jeffery demolished and Brown repurposed as an elementary school.

Officials have indicated they would like to have that initiative in front of voters by the end of the year.

Zuba included in his projections a scenario where the town would have a “north” elementary school and a “south” elementary school, roughly reflecting the potential renewal plan model in which each building would end up hosting between 500 and 600 students.

Cooke indicated that with the way the district is moving on the school renewal plan, these numbers would be workable within the bounds of the projections.

“I think we’re right on it,” he said. “I think if we get into the high projections and those continue on for a while, would potentially have to look at expanding, but that’s a far way out. The state will not allow go beyond eight years in terms of our projections.”

While real estate is one of the most important considerations, there are a variety of factors that feed into the projections, according to Zuba, including everything from fertility rates to the return of younger students voluntarily held out of MPS during the pandemic.

Many of those are still just projections based on state guidelines, Zuba admitted, and SLR did not have preliminary data on private school returns or homeschool students, though Cooke said the numbers were “spot on” based on qualitative conversations with local families.

On the real estate front, the numbers are tremendous. Zuba said Madison saw 320 home sales in 2020, a 50 percent increase over 2019 and the most since 2004.

Most of those are south of I-95, he said, with a few other hot spots. SLR cross-referenced this data with the state tracking numbers of K-12 age kids who were not MPS students the year before to get an idea of likely how many of these new homeowners were bringing school-aged children to town.

Madison also saw a jump of almost 40 annual births between 2016 and 2020, according to Zuba, which may or may not continue or prove to be a driving factor in continued enrollment increases.

Zuba presented three separate models for the enrollment turnaround that he called low, medium, and high. High was predicated on an uninterrupted hot real estate market, and would result in the eventual 12 percent increase, with a faster uptick beginning in the next year or two.

Medium and low would see much more modest changes, and were based on a more “prolonged” economic recovery and a downturn in the housing market. The medium model would only result in about a three percent increase, while the low model would see Madison flattening to a static number slightly below current levels.

K-3 schools will see the quickest, most dramatic increases, adding close to 100 students by 2023 even in the medium model, Zuba said. Slightly more of that would be concentrated at Jeffery just because of the geographic concentration of the various trends analyzed, he added.

Brown will add almost 25 percent to its population by the end of the decade under that model as well, according to Zuba.

Growth in Polson and Daniel Hand High School will be cushioned somewhat, with declines continuing on for a few years before absorbing the larger classes from younger grades.

Jesse Williams covers Guilford and Madison for Zip06. Email Jesse at

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