The Enrollment Storm (Part 2 of 2)

Part 1 of this series discussed the current budget year with respect to expected enrollment declines. This article, by contrast, focuses on the future (5-10 years) when our recent elementary enrollment declines start to affect our High School programs.

To recap, district administration is framing enrollment declines using grade level averages instead of providing a more realistic understanding of where enrollment declines are concentrated. The chart below makes it clear that the brunt of our enrollment problems are still concentrated in the elementary schools but are absolutely coming to the high school within 5-10 years.

Framing enrollment as a grade level average makes it nearly impossible to plan for future changes that WILL be caused by our current grade level enrollment distribution. To explain, consider the graph above of grade level enrollment and visualize its movement to the right over time. The “low tide” currently in our elementary schools will be in our middle schools very soon and will reach the HS in about 5 years. The district often sites the number 835 as the future enrollment at the HS for facility planning purposes. That is a five year projection which will occur just as the first of our small cohorts arrives in 9th grade. Over the ensuing several years, HS enrollment will continue to fall, likely closer to 750 by 2027/28, approximately 180 students below current levels.

Reductions in elementary sections are easy to execute, as each class of students stays with the same teacher throughout the day. In middle school and high school, teachers are specialized, so the reductions that will be required as a result of a 180 student drop in HS enrollment will be extremely painful, endangering some offered programs with extinction. Now is the time to plan for which programs we will prioritize BEFORE the wave of enrollment declines reaches 9th grade.

It is very concerning that instead of recognizing the reality of the coming storm, our school committee has chosen instead to argue that year to year reductions will cause a drop in “excellence.” This short sighted view will make the cuts much more painful and harmful to our district’s excellence when the real storm arrives.

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