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Census shows young children more scarce in Bedford

In a place where everything seems to be booming, there's one thing Bedford Township is seeing less of these days: young children.

In the latest batch of 2000 census data - released today - the number of children under age 5 in the Monroe County suburb dropped nearly 5 percent since 1990, mirroring a statewide trend.

At the same time, the number of older children increased. That was particularly true for junior high and senior high school students, whose numbers jumped 37 percent in 10 years - more than three times the state average.

The data muddies any predictions for future school enrollment in the district. It helps reinforce the common perception that the township, Toledo's most populous suburb, is attracting families with older children, not families just starting out.

“You can't afford a $200,000 to $300,000 home, especially if you've been in the work force only a few years,” said Royce Maniko, Monroe County's planning director.

The trend of fewer young children holds throughout Monroe, Lenawee, and Hillsdale counties as well as the state. The three-county area had 6 percent fewer children under 5 in 2000 than in 1990, about the same as the state as a whole.

But the numbers varied heavily in the growth of older children.

The number of children ready for elementary school, 5 to 11-year-olds, grew about 8 percent across the state but just 2 percent in the three southeast Michigan counties. In Bedford Township, however, the growth was 17 percent.

For children about to enter junior high or high school, ages 12 to 17, Bedford Township's growth rate was more than twice that. Michigan's rate was 11 percent, while the combined three-county area's was 9 percent.

The data doesn't surprise officials with Bedford Public Schools - one of the fastest-growing school districts in the region.

The township's boom has been the product of a 1977 growth plan. Township leaders at the time got Toledo officials to extend water service north, and they even formed an “image committee” to try to sell Bedford Township to suburb-seekers.

But the big boost was courtesy of a 1994 state law, called Proposal A, which dramatically cut property taxes and boosted state sales taxes in an effort to reform how Michigan funded schools.

For border regions like Bedford Township, it meant people could live in an area of lower property taxes but still have access to jobs and shopping across the state line in Toledo. And they came.

The township's population jumped 21 percent in the 1990s - adding 4,858 people. That was felt in the school district. By 2000, there were 477 more children ready for elementary school and 818 more children ready for junior high and senior high school.

For years the school district burst at the seams, with so many children that it had to install classroom trailers outside schools and rent extra classroom space in a church. Now, thanks to a 1998 bond issue, a fifth elementary school and an expanded high school will open this month.

Dennis Caldwell, the high school principal, says space will still be tight. This year's freshman class of 473 is the biggest in his six years with the district. Despite adding 27 classrooms, the high school, is keeping its nine portable classrooms for now, so every teacher gets his or her own classroom.

While surprised at the decrease in the number of infants and toddlers, particularly in an area that has otherwise boomed, he said he doubts that will translate into vacant classrooms in later years.

“On paper, you can see the projections, but then you see all the building and all the growth, and you think the kids are still going to come,” Mr. Caldwell said.

Mr. Maniko said it's unclear what's going to happen. The township has in the past endured cycles of fast growth followed by no growth.

But he said it's too early to predict that fewer children will be in the school district because the district still could import them. Just as many parents with older children moved to the township in the 1990s, so could many during this decade.

Mr. Maniko pointed to increased growth in manufactured housing communities in the township, which may lure younger families that can't afford the often-pricey subdivisions.

Besides an age breakdown of residents, today's release of census data includes for the first time the number of same-sex unmarried partners living together in Michigan.

In Monroe County, there were 85 gay couples and 93 lesbian couples - a combined 0.3 percent of all households in the county. The rate was the same for Lenawee County, which had 50 gay couples and 63 lesbian couples.

In the less populous Hillsdale County, there were 24 gay and 42 lesbian couples - a combined 0.4 percent of all households.

For places over 2,000 households, Bedford Township had the highest rate of same-sex households in the three-county area: 0.5 percent, or 1 in every 200 households. The township had 24 gay and 26 lesbian couples.

The Census Bureau counted 15,368 same-sex couples in Michigan last year -- 8,075 female and 7,293 male - for a statewide rate of 0.4 percent. More than 40 percent of those couples were in the metro Detroit counties of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne. Yet every county reported at least a few same-sex households -- even Keweenaw, the smallest, with five female couples but no male couples.

Blade assistant city editor Mike Wilkinson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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