From June – October 2018, the school contingency committee met with the goal of creating enrollment triggers for when the district should alter the current long term facility plan. While most in community were narrowly concerned with a “high side trigger,” when we would reconsider keeping a 4th elementary school, many of us in the committee understood that it was more likely that a low side trigger would allow us to determine if we could fit all of our elementary students in 3 schools with no (or limited) expansions.
It is common to hear the argument that no school closure was planned until the 2022/23 school year. While this is technically true, the contingency committee was in place to determine if conditions existed to alter that plan. Given the current data, we would recommend accelerating consolidation plans for the coming school year. Recently, an updated projection by Dr Jerome McKibben suggested a stabilization of our elementary enrollment. Unfortunately, data collected both before and since point not to a stabilization but rather a downward acceleration. SK’s current enrollment as declined from 2978 to 2933 in just 6 months.
Worse, contrary to McKibben’s forecast of a rebound resulting from a questionable real estate uptick, our incoming kindergarten enrollment is tracking with our deteriorating birth rates. As of April 9, only 159 kindergarten students were enrolled, 30 less than the comparable time last year, and consistent with the 37 child drop in the relevant birth cohorts (2013 vs 2014 births). While the raw number comparison is bad, the trend is worse. Last year, kindergarten enrollment increased from 170 on March 1 to 189 in April 17, as can be seen below:
This year, 158 were registered on March 1st, and there has been no improvement since. Given that “many parents have informed staff that they are double registered with private/charter schools,” it is extremely likely that we end up with the same or even fewer students than are currently registered. This would be the smallest kindergarten class in recent memory by a large margin.
These data suggest that contrary to McKibben’s prediction of an increase in migration of early elementary students, we are continuing to see our incoming cohorts closely matched to the number of children born 5 years previously. The figure below depicts SK births compared to 1st grade enrollment 6 years later. Note the large drop in the birth rate for the 2020 1st grade class, who’s enrollment we now know will follow suit.
A Low End Trigger
One metric we considered when discussing a low end trigger was the need to place students in single sections and split grade classes throughout the district. Current class section recommendations meet these criteria. Currently the district is planning to have 1 section of monolingual students at WES, 1 or 2 sections of monolingual at PDES, 1 full kindergarten and 1 K/1 split class at MES and a K/1 split class at WKES. Note that these issues are problematic no matter how many grades are “brought back” to the elementary schools. At some point there are simply not enough students in each grade to split them into 4 schools.
From a financial standpoint, this is a waste of money. Split classes require an additional 1/2 time teacher and as a result cost 50% more than a full class from an FTE standpoint. Considering the K and 1st grade cohorts, the district is currently planning for 19 sections (including 2 split classes) for a total of 20 FTEs in 4 elementary schools. If we were instead in 3 elementary schools, we could have 9 K and 9 1st grade classes (18 FTEs). That would save $240,000 in just K and 1st grade. We could easily reduce 2 additional sections from 2-4th grade, totaling approximately $500k in teacher FTEs. Consolidation would save an additional $300k by reducing administration and staff for a minimum of $800,000 in savings.
The School Committee consistently states that school closures were not planned until 2022/23. That is true, but leadership means looking at the current situation and adjusting plans when necessary. The previous School Committee had created the contingency committee for exactly this purpose. The current School Committee, by contrast, has no process in place to analyze incoming data and make such recommendations, and that is to all of our detriment. It is hard to believe that competent management would refuse to consider guaranteed savings of $800,000 (we could save well over $1 million with more aggressive consolidation) given the current budget discussion.
For those who claim that we will need the 4th school given the plan to move 5th grade to the elementary schools, consider that our k-5 enrollment next year will likely fall to 1180, and likely drop to approximately 1100 within 3 years. Given how tightly our enrollment matches our birth rate series, we can now expect our future elementary enrollment to fall to the functional capacity of our 3 elementary schools with potentially no expansions. In fact, if we were to keep 5th grade at the middle school, we could comfortably fit our future elementary enrollment in 2 schools instead.
We hope that the school committee will take a hard look at the data available and consider these options as they develop a plan for our future.
-Former Contingency Committee members
Roland Benjamin, former school committee chair,
Jason Ralph, PhD.
Nicole Mulanaphy, P.E.