Frequently on Village 14, various list serves and wherever and whenever new development is discussed, someone inevitably raises understandable concerns about how new growth will lead to overcrowding of our already “too-crowded” public schools.
So just how crowded are Newton’s schools? And what might the impact of the proposed Northland, Riverside or other projects have on school enrollment? I have no expertise on this matter and I’ve never known how to respond. So I emailed the Newton School Committee Vice Chair Steve Siegel and asked.
Here’s Steve’s response:
“Our school population overall has dropped slightly, by 50-60 students this year after leveling off last year. Our total enrollment is at about 12,700 now, down from an early 60’s peak of 18,000 and up from an early 80’s trough of 9,000. This has been consistent with our enrollment projections over the last few years and we are happy to see it. But this is the big picture, as enrollment is uneven and we are going to see a crunch at Oak Hill and Brown in coming years and Oak Hill may need to expand slightly with additional classroom construction, likely modulars. Then, following a few high-enrollment classes passing through the school population there will drop. The high schools are near-full but we are managing them effectively.
“The key to dealing with enrollment changes is to study and update the data continuously, and make adjustments where necessary. Buffer zones are the best example of this — we keep class sizes even across grades and schools with the judicious use of buffer zones to send newly enrolled students to the schools that have the physical capacity to receive them.
What about the impact of new developments on our school population?
“You’ve heard this from me before — we have two big factors that interact with each other — broad regional demographic trends (the waning of the baby boom echo) that is causing school enrollments to drop all over eastern MA, and new developments that bring in new families with kids to the most desirable communities, like Newton, Brookline, and Lexington.
“The steeper curve dictates what happens to Newton enrollments going forward. As of right now and with current projections, these curves cancel and we expect to be able to handle future enrollment within our current school buildings, with the possible exception of the short term bump in our middle schools.
“Will this be so next year too? Every year we look at the trends, and make plans based upon what we see. At some point this might mean we decide to locate and build another elementary school, or add a 5th middle school.
“But at present these big moves aren’t called for.”