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Newton’s school enrollment steady, has potential to grow

Published: Friday, April 18, 2014 11:52 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, April 18, 2014 12:01 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Ty Rushing/Newton Daily News)
RSP & Associates Owner Robert Schwarz presented a demographic study his firm conducted and the district had commissioned, at Monday’s school board meeting. RSP’s report projects Newton’s schools to remain steady, but have potential for growth.

If even more employment opportunities develop in the City of Newton, the Newton Community School District could go from “being stable” to a growing district according to a demographic study conducted by RSP & Associates.

The district had the study commissioned in October and on Monday at the school board meeting, Robert Schwarz, owner of RSP & Associates, explained their findings, what categories were researched and what the results mean for the future of Newton’s schools.

“If you remember, when we started on this journey several months ago, the goal was to have a product that would help the City of Newton in their ability to attract more residential development on the whole image of Newton and its connection to the City of Des Moines,” Schwarz said.

“Keep that in mind as we work through this, we’ve tried to show some different things that would help — if you are a city person — be able to extract some of this information to help in their marketing plan to be able to have the visuals established on why Newton is a great place to live in the Des Moines area.”

The finished report is 72 pages long and features statistics that compare Newton to Jasper County and the State of Iowa as a whole, various maps of the district’s boundaries and statistics on everything from future enrollment to building capacity.

Schwarz said the report his firm put together was based on these characteristics: School district demographic profile; enrollment analysis; five-year enrollment projections; housing overview; property values; residential population estimate; age structure; socio-economic profiling; business summary; and land use analysis.

He said his firm used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the district, the city, the county, Iowa’s Department of Transportation and Esri — a company that uses geographic information services technology to provide analytic data for research purposes.

The report showcases that Newton has been doing well in its recovery from Maytag’s departure, but there is a need for new housing. Schwartz said Newton’s “synergy” (collaboration) with Des Moines can help with growth and that the biggest growing area in the community is the land surrounding the Berg Complex.

He said this was unique, as most development moves west, but in the case of growth for the Berg-area, it is going east.

“There are several areas where residential development could happen in Newton, and we tried to factor that in to what could occur,” Schwarz said. “We tried to factor in where we think some of those developments may happen — and looking at statistics — most of it is out by Berg Elementary.”

The report also suggests development could take place on western side of Newton near Westwood Golf Course. It also said helping people in the Des Moines-area get over their “poor Newton” (Maytag’s departure) mindset, those people could realize the benefits of living in a smaller community with affordable housing.

The growth summary of the report explains how things could go:

“Future enrollment will continue to be affected by development trends and demographic changes. The diverse housing inventory is a strength directly tied to employment opportunities. If affordable housing and employment choices remain constant, households will continue to choose to move to NCSD or remain in the district because it is a good place to raise a family.”

Another element used in the report was the facilities study the district had conducted through Des Moines-based FRK Architects and Engineers. That study showed the maximum and minimum student capacity for each of the district’s buildings. RSP combined that research with its resources to project future enrollment for the district for the next five school years.

Berg Elementary has a minimum capacity of 360 and max of 400. Berg’s current enrollment is listed at 459. It’s projected to maintain between 455 to 465 students until the 2018-19 school year in its residential area.

Thomas Jefferson Elementary has a minimum of 378 and max of 408. TJ’s current enrollment is listed at 467. Projections show it will maintain 440-444 students until SY 2019 in its residential area.

Aurora Heights Elementary School has a minimum of 300, max of 330 and current enrollment of 349. Projections show it will grow to 366 students in SY 2019 in its residential area.

Woodrow Wilson Elementary School has a minimum of 280, max of 308 and current enrollment of 326. It’s projected to hit 357 students in SY 2017 and trickle down to 350 by SY 2019 in its residential area.

BMS has a minimum of 380, a max of 418 and current enrollment of 454. After slightly declines in enrollment for a few years, it is projected to hit 469 in SY 2019. As the only middle school, BMS serves all seventh and eighth graders in Newton, so it has no specific residential boundaries. The same goes for Newton Senior High School.

NHS has a minimum and max capacity of 1,250 and 833 students currently enrolled. The enrollment numbers for NHS go up and down for the next five school years — peaking at 850 in SY 2015 and SY 2018 — and enrollment is projected to be at 830 in SY 2019.

After analyzing these figures, RSP concluded enrollment will increase in the next five years; the bulk of enrollment will be at the elementary level; enrollment seems to be equally distributed amongst grades; enrollment tends to increase most in the elementary levels, but decrease in the secondary level; there is a need for more middle school capacity and there is a need for more elementary capacity.

He also suggested for the next phase of the study, the administration, the school board and his firm should look at addressing capacity concerns.

Schwarz said his company’s reports have a 97-percent accuracy rating and they have conducted similar studies all over the Midwest, including Ankeny, Johnston and Waukee in the Des Moines metro.

Senior staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at trushing@newtondailynews.com.

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