A consultant hired to study the demographics of the Meramec Valley R-III School District gave new meaning to the phrase “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going.”

Speaking at the Jan. 16 school board meeting, Preston Smith with Business Information Services (BIS) said the student population and economy of the district are in decline, with no relief in sight.

However, there are things that could affect the quality of life and lure new families with school-age children into the district, Smith said, who shared results of a demographic study his firm completed.

It is time, he said, for the school district and the city to consider floating a bond issue to construct a community recreation center.

“This is one thing that could turn things around,” Smith said. “You need something that would get families to say, ‘Wow, this is a good place for families.’ ”

The student population, which has been declining gradually for several years, is now approximately where it was in 1986 and could dip another 600 students over the next decade, according to Smith.

One factor for the lower number of students in the district is the aging population. Although some new families moved into the district, there was no increase in students enrolling in area schools.

“Many of the new families are over 50 and no longer have school-age children,” Smith said.

There are no new subdivisions on the horizon, he said. The district enrollment was at its strongest when there were 600 residential permits a year. Now, fewer than 50 building permits are issued per year.

Also, there is no indications of any new facilities providing new jobs to bring families into the community, Smith said.

Overall, the school district fared well in the 169-page study. The operation of the school district got high marks when compared with other districts who have commissioned BIS to complete similar demographic studies.

The district is managed extremely well, Smith said. All buildings and grounds are in excellent condition.

“One of the first things we normally recommend when districts are in decline is to float a bond issue and bring all of the buildings into good condition, but that’s not needed in Meramec Valley,” Smith said. “All of your buildings are in top shape.”

The district transportation system is stellar, he added, and Meramec Valley is the only school district among BIS clients that has no room for improvement in this area.

“In our bus routing evaluation studies that took over 200 hours of staff time, we could not point to a single point that would improve on your current routes,” Smith said.

“You are running routes in the most efficient way that they can be run,” he said. “The district gets a solid A+. Meramec Valley is the only district we studied where there was not one area in transportation to improve on.”

Although the district mirrors much of the economic profile of the St. Louis region, the local economic decline appears to be more pervasive and offers less promise of recovery than the area in general, Smith said.

In conclusion, he urged district officials to consider working with community leaders to re-establish a family atmosphere for the area.

Not just the future of the school district, but the future of the entire community is at stake, Smith said.

“You need to work with the city and county to bring some families here,” he said. “You need something that would get people to say, ‘Wow, this is a good place for families.’ ”

In accepting the study, Superintendent Randy George said he and other administrators would study the material and forward any unanswered questions to the consulting firm.