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Declining enrollment may prompt hike in school choice slots


HARVARD — The School Committee met the problem of declining student enrollment in the Harvard Public Schools head-on Monday night in a briefing by Superintendent Joseph Connelly whose figures predicted a loss of 199 or 17.2 percent of K-12 students over the next five years.

The decline is in line with a steady loss of students since 2007 representing 11.3 percent of total enrollment.

With each loss costing $5,000 in subsidies to the school system, the total reduction in revenue for the schools is significant. If not replaced, the decrease will demand either budgetary cost-cutting or shifting of resources within the curriculum.

A Declining Enrollment Subcommittee was appointed to conduct a study of the problem. In a report dated Dec. 9, members concluded that a main source of continued revenue aside from increased taxes will be school choice students from outside the town opting into Harvard.

At the moment, such students have been capped at 7 percent of the schools’ population but in light of the declining number of Harvard students, that number could be revised upward.

The most important thing, stated the report, is to preserve the schools’ “quality of education, the high performance of our students, and the overall integrity and reputation of the school system,” which was considered “mission critical.”

Causes for the shrinking numbers were identified as declining birth rates, slowdown in the real estate market that brings families into town and students who choose to attend other schools or are home-schooled.

The impact of declining enrollment is expected to be felt in the 2015 school year when there may not be enough students to maintain four classes for each grade at Hildreth Elementary School. That trend will then hit the middle-school grades by 2018.

At some point, if new revenue is not found or school choice money is not sufficient, the K-5 grades will have to shrink from four classes each to three.

Class size for elementary students in 2015 has been proposed at between 17 and 22.

A draft budget proposed by Connelly covering fiscal 2015, included a drop in spending of just under 1 percent from 2014.

Currently, the proposed budget comes to $11,790,588, about $103,900 less than the year before.

The budget for 2014 came in at $11,894,488.