HARVARD -- As the school year prepares to start with one less kindergarten section, the School Committee is figuring out how to tackle the district's declining enrollment.

The steady drop in numbers stems from a decline in birth rate, real-estate sales and general outward migration, according to a December 2013 report.

The report, created by a subcommittee to study the problem, found that enrollment reached a peak in 2006 at about 1,250 students.

Another estimated 64 students could come from the completion of the Grant Road project in Devens, which would add 120 housing units to an area that sends its children to Harvard Public Schools.

But the report still estimated a total drop of 199 students by 2019, a 17.2 percent decline. Last school year, enrollment stood at 1,172, and this year 1,160 students are enrolled so far.

The impact is being felt most in kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade, said Superintendent Linda Dwight. The district later dropped one kindergarten teacher, but does not plan to cut any more teachers, she said.

"We're definitely not making any drastic changes based on trends that may or may not hold true," she said. "But it's good to study just so that we're prepared, we're not caught off guard if it happens."

Now the committee is tasked with balancing the number of necessary teachers with the steadily declining number of students. Fluctuation in kindergarten enrollment, for example, has left officials with a tricky task.


Although overall enrollment has dropped, Dwight reported to the committee last month that kindergarten numbers have increased for this school year.

The enrollment, currently at 52, sits just at the threshold of possibly bringing back the eliminated kindergarten teaching position.

As they outlined their goals for the coming year, committee members highlighted the need to figure out the next steps to take since the report's release.

Chairwoman SusanMary Redinger said in a phone interview that the committee will put together a group to look at various scenarios and possibly ask the administration for suggestions.

One option could include expanding electives as the number of core teaching positions decline.

"We could simply eliminate teachers as you lose the ability to fill the classes, but you could also focus on making sure you still have electives and diversity in the courses being offered," she said. "So it's kind of a balance."

Another language course or technology offering could be a possibility, she noted, but the question would also be whether the district could provide those opportunities with a limited number of students.

"You can't justify keeping on teachers just to do elective kinds of things," she said. "At some point, there's too few students in the district to really provide enough opportunities."

The district has no problem attracting out-of-district, "choice" students -- Redinger said there is an abundance of applications every year. This upcoming year, the district will have 71.

But choice students only bring the district $5,000 per student, while the cost of running the whole district comes out to about $14,500 per pupil.

"If you take on a lot of those, then you're going to be hard-pressed to fund the resources needed to provide services for that many kids," Redinger said.

Numbers might change in the coming years, and Redinger said she does think there is an opportunity for them to turn around.

"I do know the home sales have picked up in Harvard, so there's the potential that we could get an influx in students," she said.

Dwight said real-estate sales are picking up, with more movement than there was two or three years ago.

"Probably people without children, retired people or people whose children are out of the system, some of them are moving," she said. "And that creates spaces for new, young families to move in."

Planning around the decline, Dwight said, is a bit of a "wait-and-see" game. 

"We don't want to do anything drastic based on the fact that a lot of our numbers are driven by how many people move in and when the real-estate market is better," she said.

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