The economy has taken its toll on the job market, the town budget and, according to

predictions, the total student enrollment in Westport schools.

Like the stock market, numbers are down; although, things could change.,

The New England School Development Council, a nonprofit group that provides enrollment projections for approximately 300 schools, used a variety of variables to estimate that in 2010-11, enrollment would begin to decline with a total drop of 402 students in the district by 2014-15.

Enrollment projections are used as a factor in determining the school budget and seeing which grades are becoming the most crowded, and would thus need more teachers. In the 2009-10 adopted school budget, the cost of teaching a student was $16,266.

"The pattern that's presently in place ... for five years, is that likely to happen? Probably not," said Donald Kennedy, of the New England School Development Council, when presenting the figures to the Board of Education (BOE) on Monday. "Westport probably is going to level off and begin to grow in student population in a shorter period of time, but if that did not

happen ... this is what it would look like."

When pressed by the board to see how confident he was in the figures, Kennedy said he was 90 percent certain that the figures for next year will be accurate, but for the later estimates he said he was only around 50 percent confident.

James Marpe, vice chairman of the BOE, said he was "taken aback" when he saw the new figures.

"I guess it's because of the way the model works related to the birth rate, because otherwise I might be inclined to make some decisions around the drop off within the very foreseeable future, which is totally different than what I've looked at ... in the last five years," Marpe said.

In the past decade, enrollment has grown steadily. From 2000-01 to 2008-09, the total student population in all grades rose from 4,756 to 5,718. In 2009-10, there was a 54 student decline -- the only time this decade there had been a decrease.

"In one or two years, we'll have a different story than what we have now with the model ... and I would suspect that we'd be back with a story that looks like what I said a year ago, two years ago, three years ago," said Kennedy.

In private schools, the decline was even steeper. According to a district survey, there was a 41.9 percent decline in private school students, plummeting from 604 students to 351.

BOE Chairman Don O'Day didn't put much stock in the decline in private school students and the effect it could have on the public schools, and BOE members were leery of what the estimates could mean due to the unpredictability of how and when the economy would turn around.

"What we've seen ... is that there isn't a significant amount of inflow into our public schools from private schools, at least in this school year, so I'm not getting real worked up about this drop off," he said.