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District's student population on the rise

March 17, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Depending on which of three sets of numbers one accepts, the student population of the Chambersburg Area School District will rise from its current 8,070 to around 8,500 or 9,225 by 2010.

The lower end of the projections, based on either an analysis of new housing starts or U.S. Census Bureau data, are almost identical, while the high end is the estimate of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, according to figures supplied by Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, the Mechanicsburg, Pa., architectural firm working with the district's facilities advisory task force.

"It's nice when they agree with each other, but we don't always have that across the board," architect Paul Taylor told the 45-member panel, which is supposed to come up with a recommendation on facilities for a districtwide master plan.

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District figures show the number of students increased by just 145 since 1990, but was down from 10,518 in 1970. Taylor said at the March 2 meeting of the group, however, that many of the district's 21 elementary and secondary schools are overcrowded.

A number of factors - an aging population, smaller families, two-income households, parochial school enrollment and home schooling among them - probably all contributed to the population decline between 1970 and 1990, Business Manager Rick Vensel said. Taylor speculated the decline also coincided with the end of the baby boom.

"Thirteen percent of the students within our district do not attend public schools," Superintendent Edwin Sponseller said.

That means approximately 1,000 children are enrolled in private or parochial schools or are home-schooled.

In 1970, 24 percent of district residents were public school students, a figure that has dropped to 14 percent, Taylor said. He does not expect that percentage to drop, based on current population projections.

Fewer students are enrolled than were three decades ago, but Vensel said the way buildings are used has changed. Computer labs did not exist in 1970, and smaller class sizes are required for special education, he said.

In planning for growth, Taylor suggested current enrollment plus 10 percent, or about 8,800 students, a formula the Department of Education accepts for reimbursements on building projects.

The district still needs to look at consolidating its elementary schools from 18 to 11 or 12 buildings with three classes for each grade, former business manager George Fike said.

"We've got a lot of aging buildings," the task force member said.

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