Enrollment will continue declining steadily through the next 10 years in the Ashland School District, but at less than half the rate experienced during the last decade, according to a demographic report completed this month.

Enrollment will continue declining steadily through the next 10 years in the Ashland School District, but at less than half the rate experienced during the last decade, according to a demographic report completed this month.

The report projects 227 fewer students will attend public schools in Ashland by the 2021-2022 school year, but did not take into consideration what effects the district's newly adopted open enrollment policy might have on that forecast.

Unfortunately, said Charles Rynerson, the study's principal investigator, what's causing the continual drop-off is mostly out of the school district's hands.

"A lot of what I said comes down to housing availability and affordability," Rynerson told the Ashland School Board at Monday's meeting. "Building lots of affordable housing, I think that's the biggest thing to bring students in."

Three major factors were listed in the report as reasons for the school district's continuing enrollment decline: age structure, a drop-off in birth rates and the recession.

The population of Ashland is heavily skewed toward older people, the report said. Those age 50 to 69 outnumber younger adults age 25 to 39 by about 50 percent.

"Ashland attracted a particularly large group of baby boomers, and we don't seem to be attracting any subsequent generations in the same way," said board member Eva Skuratowicz. "We're seeing them move through and we're not seeing other generations take their place."

The baby boomer population's group of children was responsible for the soaring enrollment numbers the school district saw during the early 1990s, said Rynerson, and the numbers have been declining steadily since then.

Since the 1993-94 school year, when enrollment peaked at 3,564, the district has seen a 23.7 percent drop in enrollment, or about 844 students. The district lost 535 of those students since 2001-02.

"It's really easy to think when you're in a declining period that it will go on forever," Rynerson said. "But "… I'll go out on a limb and say that's not going to happen again."

Rynerson said school districts across the state suffer as children of baby boomers graduate, especially those that don't have large Latino populations to even out their age structure.

The report said a drop-off in birth rates is also having a negative impact on the district's enrollment, which coincides with the economic recession.

"Maybe we'll see a little boom after our economy gets back on track," said Rynerson. "With the downturn people are having less kids "… and that's statewide."

Fewer births mean fewer students entering kindergarten.

A small kindergarten class has been one of the primary enrollment problems haunting the district, said Superintendent Juli Di Chiro, because it affects each grade level as the students grow older.

"The good news is, even though your enrollment's been declining "… it's not a free-fall, because people do want to be here," Rynerson said.

The district's open enrollment policy, which hopes to admit 308 out-of-district students into Ashland schools next year, should help fill the gaps left by falling enrollment numbers, said Di Chiro.

Open enrolment applications are being accepted by the district until April 1.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.