After several years of slowing enrollment growth — and a slight overall decline this year — the Mansfield school district’s student population could start an upward trend with a projected 1 percent increase next year, according to the district’s annual demographics report.The district enrollment is projected to grow from 32,800 to 39,800 students, or 21 percent, over the next decade, according to the moderate growth scenario in the study by Population and Survey Analysts.The growth will be especially slow over the next several years, as lingering effects of the recession continue to keep entry-level home mortgages out of reach of many young families, even though single-family housing in Mansfield is plentiful and much more is on the way, said Pat Guseman, president of the College Station survey firm. And with apartments nearly filled to capacity in Mansfield, those families that are moving out on their own are choosing other school districts, like Grand Prairie, Arlington and Fort Worth, that have more multifamily housing available, she said.The result has been a slight but steady decline in elementary school enrollment as a percentage of Mansfield’s overall enrollment, which is a barometer for student population in upper grades over the next dozen years. The effect has been greater in Mansfield, Guseman said, than in any of the other 30 to 35 Texas school districts that use her firm.“The urban core areas that had a high proportion of apartments are actually increasing with students,” said Guseman, who has served the Mansfield district for 18 years. “This year Dallas, Richardson, Arlington all had increases.”Guseman, who presented her findings to the school board on Tuesday [ Dec. 18], said that in those cities, many of the apartments are 30 to 45 years old and were built for the Baby Boomers.“Those are being heavily utilized again by young families,” she said in an interview Friday. “That affects Mansfield, which is oriented toward single-family housing units, and folks cannot easily get mortgages.”She said there’s evidence that stricter mortgage requirements imposed after the recession struck in 2008 are beginning to relax, but she hasn’t seen that translate into an influx of young families.“It’s hard to follow a suburban dream and buy a home in a highly regarded district like Mansfield,” Guseman said.Overall, though, she said the district is healthy, even enviable.“There has been a downturn in the projections, and now a slight uptick,” she told the board. “I think you can feel fairly comfortable with your long-term plans.”That also was Superintendent Jim Vaszauskas’s take on the numbers.“I think it’s something where we tighten our belts a little bit,” he said later. “ But we’re not in a situation where we have to make any dramatic cuts. We’ll just continue to be careful financially.”Slower growthThe school district, which includes portions of South Arlington and Grand Prairie, was consistently among the top five fastest-growing districts in the state from the late 1990s through about 2007. Enrollment growth topped 13 percent in the middle of that rush, and surged again with 11.5 percent in 2005.Since then, the growth rate has been slowing. The increase was less than 1 percent in each of the past two years, before overall enrollment declined by 0.3 percent this year. Kindergarten and first grade enrollment has declined in each of the last three years.School officials said the results are not sharply different from those of previous demography reports, although the decrease in numbers of the youngest students could be a concern.“If you don’t have more kids coming into your district, there will come a time when you see your schools not being full, because we have built based on the estimations of all those kids being here,” said Board President Beth Light. “But we’re really in pretty good shape right now in this district.”Only 1,900 of Mansfield’s students live in apartments, about 6 percent, which Guseman called “extremely low.” Most of Mansfield’s apartments are upscale and have very few student residents, she said.According to her wide-ranging research, 38.5 percent of Mansfield’s students are considered economically disadvantaged, ranking 12th among the state’s 58 districts with 20,000 or more students. Mansfield also had the 12th highest passing rate in the 2012-13 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) among those districts.Guseman said those two factors -- along with a highly educated population (38 percent have bachelor’s degrees) and high median income level ($77,394, compared with $56,954 for the Dallas-Fort Worth area) – give Mansfield a competitive advantage for new development. Her 10-year forecast calls for an increase of 15,460 occupied homes in the district, including nearly 11,000 single-family houses and 4,600 multifamily units.Board appointment Also at the meeting, the board appointed Maria Gamell as T.A. Howard Middle School principal, filling the vacancy created when Donna O’Brian was promoted to area superintendent last month. O’Brian replaced Lamar Goree, who returned home to Louisiana to become superintendent of the Caddo Parish school district in Shreveport.
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641 Twitter: @Kaddmann