Roanoke Co. schools' enrollment declines in wake of major job losses

Roanoke County School projections show drop of 800 students over 5 years (Image 1)
Roanoke County School projections show drop of 800 students over 5 years (Image 1) (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

ROANOKE COUNTY (WSLS 10) - Roanoke County Public Schools says, in the next five years, it could lose nearly 800 students county-wide.  

Leaders say the loss is due a variety of factors including people leaving the Valley to pursue other jobs and, more specifically, Norfolk Southern relocating.  

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Weeks after Norfolk Southern announced it was moving 500 jobs out of Roanoke and into Atlanta, members of the Roanoke County School Board, along with the Board of Supervisors, began to look into how the move could impact students.  

"Everything is good right now, but we have to plan. We have to think," explained School Board Member Mike Altizer. 

Altizer and other board members said when Norfolk Southern leaves, around 200 students could be impacted. 

About 130 are staying in Roanoke. About 60 are moving and 11 are unsure. But county leaders said there's a trend.

There's a declining number of students attending Roanoke County Schools already. 

Excluding the impact of Norfolk Southern leaving, school leaders estimate about 13,900 students will remain enrolled in Roanoke County Public Schools. But over the next five years, that number is expected to drop to just over 13,000. 

Roanoke County School projections show drop of 800 students over 5 years

Altizer explained, "They have to understand, if things don't change then some schools will probably have to close." 

School leaders said one reason for the decline is young people graduating from high school and college and not returning to Roanoke Valley to raise families. Fewer babies are being born in the area, and fewer babies means fewer children to enroll in schools.

County leaders say they need to work on marketing the Roanoke Valley to the younger generation. Part of that includes bring in high-paying jobs - like the ones leaving with USPS and Norfolk Southern.

"If we can set them up out of college and have a job for them right here, I believe that's going to be grass-roots building back of our people," explained County Board Member Butch Church.

A Roanoke City Schools spokesperson said they have seen an increase in enrollment over the last few years. They said a UVA study suggested they were the only school system in southwest Virginia that has seen growing enrollment. 

The Roanoke County School Board will meet up again to figure out a plan once to new school superintendent comes into office.