WJCC enrollment projections don;t hold up

W-JCC Schools have released their proposed 10-year Capital Improvement Program (FY19-FY28). It is a beauty.

They propose to spend $22,328,506 in total to increase capacity at the three high schools between FY19-FY22. Mercifully, they plan on taking a year off in FY23 before coming back with $15,331,084 for a new central office (FY24-FY25). While the new central office is being built in FY25, they propose to spend more than $2.28 million on design for expansion of James Blair Middle School.

FY26 will clip the taxpayers for $15,229,965 for middle school expansion. And finally, in FY27-FY28, the planning and construction of a new elementary school is to commence, with cost estimates at $56,899,079. So that would be more than $94.4 million for school capacity increases and more than $15.3 million for state-of-the-art central office spaces.

Wow. That’s a lot of money, and that doesn’t even include the millions to operate these schools.

Two questions arise: How reliable are the enrollment projections? How do these projections relate to already existing capacity?

In 2010, Future Think’s Most Likely Enrollment Projections for 2017 projected 12,186 total W-JCC students. The reality was 709 fewer actually showed up, or 232 less than existing total school capacity. The projections were off at all grade levels. Even the low projections from 2010 for 2017 were lower, albeit by 165 students, with only the high school enrollment actually 30 students greater than projections. Also, only the middle school Low Enrollment Projections showed marginal numbers over existing capacity without factoring in the opening of James Blair next year.

Any fair-minded review of Low Enrollment Projections as they become reality shows they are pretty accurate and should be relied on more than the group’s Most Likely Enrollment Projections.

So, how do future Low Enrollment Projections stack up against existing capacity during the next decade, which is being addressed by the proposed CIP? What follows is current enrollment, future enrollment 2027-28, current capacity (W-JCC 2013) and plus or minus capacity versus 2027-28 projections (“+” indicates excess capacity):

2017-27 Capacity +/-: Elementary: 5018, 5195, 5470, +275; Middle School: 2640, 2684, 3121, +437; High School: 3819, 3879, 3963, +84.

Given these projections, what justification can there possibly be to spend almost $110 million in school building expansions over the next 10 years?

Don’t be fooled by W-JCC use of Most Likely Enrollment Projections. These projections have simply not panned out over the years when the future became present. It looks like W-JCC’s enrollment has peaked and will remain essentially unchanged over the next decade. This is good news. Now W-JCC can spend its time and money on educating our children and stop worrying about building more facilities.

Jay Everson

James City County

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