Schools Expect Enrollment to Rise; How Much is Unclear
Paul Ash, superintendent of the Lexington Public Schools, last month presented enrollment figures for the district through 2022 and his concerns included reliability and overcrowding.
Introducing enrollment projectionsn last month, the first thing Superintendent of Schools Paul Ash did was offer a disclaimer, to preface the figures that followed with a few words about what could go wrong.
Projections for Lexington High School, where enrollment is expected to increase by more than 200 students over the next 10 years, looks OK, Ash said, because most of those students are already in the district.
According to those projections, total high school enrollment is projected to increase from 1,953 in 2012 to 2,188 in 2022, while middle school student enrollment is projected to drop from 1,608 to 1,562 during that same period. Three different sets of enrollment figures were presented for grades K through 5, the highest of which projected a decrease from an actual enrollment of 2,818 for fiscal 2012 to 2,546 in FY22.
But, speaking to the School Committee on Dec. 20, the superintendent said he has only moderate confidence in the middle school numbers and even less for the elementary school projections, because, for every 100 students born in Lexington, the schools are picking up about 170 to 180 kindergarteners five years later.
Part of the problem is the Town Census, or, more specifically, the lack of complete participation. According to Ash, last year, the district discovered there were 1,800 families with kids in the schools who did not list their children’s names in the census.
[According to the Town Clerk's Office, the 2012 annual Town Census forms will soon be delivered to each household in Lexington.]
Through a fair amount of effort and persistence on the part of Miriam Sousa, administrative assistant to the superintendent, previously unaccounted for children are appearing on the pre-school census and there was a jump of more than 300, more than 240 of which had siblings at the same address last year.
“Had we not picked up on that anomaly, we would have been over-forecasting the enrollment, thinking these were new kids moving to Lexington in a massive migration,” Ash explained, adding that the rub is, these new numbers could compromise progression rates on which enrollment projections are based.
Problems and Solutions
Assuming the upcoming debt exclusion votes pass, Ash said the two renovated and one new elementary school could lead to more families with young children moving into town. So that, coupled with the census issues, could compromise any long-term enrollment projection, he said.
With that in mind, Ash recommended looking out only four years, and then looking back year after year to shape a 10-year master plan. That passage of Bridge and Bowman and Estabrook would mean 13 new classrooms, which should take care of any short-term enrollment spikes, Ash said.
Regarding the middle schools, the superintendent said he expected the populations of the two schools would remain pretty flat for the foreseeable future.
At the high school, however, Ash said he was concerned that the “overcrowded” school is already overcrowded with 1,900-plus students and is projected to add 200 more students in the next decade. And so, Ash said he and LHS Principal Natalie Cohen were to meet with an architect to look at optimal uses of internal space.
“It’s possible we will need to come back to you about a special Town Meeting next fall to ask for funds” for a renovation project or plan to deal with a classroom shortage, Ash said.