Enrollment in Cape Henlopen School District has topped 5,000, setting a new district benchmark.
For the Sept. 30 unit count – the measurement used to determine student enrollment for the school year – Cape's total student enrollment was 5,034.
“This is the first time Cape has been over 5,000,” said Superintendent Robert Fulton. “Every year we're growing. We're excited that we're growing, that people are coming here, but it sends a clear message that we have to plan for growth.”
A University of Delaware study on future Cape Henlopen enrollment released in August supports Fulton's concern.
Prepared by the Center for Applied Demography and Survey Research, the $15,000 19-page study analyzed county and district demographics projecting growth over the next decade.
“Cape Henlopen School District student enrollment will increase gradually over the next 10 years gaining on average about 53 students per year. It will continue to increase the following 10 years as well, gaining on average about 49 students per year,” the study states.
Cape enrollment has mirrored student growth throughout Sussex County over the past 14 years, the study states. Cape schools have accounted for about 20 percent of Sussex County's total student population during that time; 2013 figures listed county enrollment at about 25,000 with Cape close to 5,000, the study states.
However, the study noted projecting student enrollments by district is risky because school numbers are a small percentage of the overall population, and there are several factors that can sway numbers for that subset of the population.
Students moving in and out of private, charter and vocational schools is one factor; the number of babies born in the area, grade level retention rates and families moving in and out of the school district are other factors.
Sussex County births dipped from a high of 25,000 around 2006 to about 20,000 in 2010, according to figures provided by the study. During that same time frame, the study notes births within the Cape Henlopen School District remained at about 500.
The study also predicts Sussex County's population will trend older. In 2010, the 40-to-64-year-old age bracket dominated the population of Sussex County. But by 2020, the 65-and-older bracket is expected to rise closer to the 40-to-64 bracket. By 2030, 65-and-older residents will outnumber all other groups, with about 80,000 residents, followed by the 40-64 with about 70,000. This trend will continue through 2040; however, the 40-64 year old bracket will edge closer to the older bracket by that time, according to the study.
School board member Sandi Minard said she had hoped more district-specific data would be included in the study. The board had requested the study over the summer to help it determine where a new elementary school is needed based on student population.
“I felt like there was more information that could have been used to give more details,” she said. “Unfortunately, the study leaves us questioning where we should put the new school.”
The Delaware Department of Education recently agreed to fund its 60 percent share of the cost to build a new 720-student elementary school. The board is considering sites along Route 24 and one on Beaver Dam Road, but no decision has been made.