SHIRLEY — More than 80 percent of this year’s 8th-graders are opting to stay in the district next year, Ayer Shirley Regional School District Superintendent Mary Malone told the School Committee last Wednesday night.
According to the annual report filed with the state, 136 students graduated from Ayer Shirley Middle School in June 2014 (2013-14 academic year.) Of that number, 97 were reported as attending Ayer Shirley Regional High School in October 2014.
That’s a 71.3 percent retention rate, compared to 80.4 percent for the subsequent year, 2014-15.
That’s good news for the five-year old regional school district, whose member towns both struggled as independent districts to maintain their enrollment in an era of school choice and charter schools competing for students and state funds.
When students opt out of their home districts to attend other public school districts under the auspices of the state School Choice program, the per-pupil cost of tuition is deducted from the sending district’s state aid and goes to the receiving district instead.
The scenario is similar for students attending charter schools, but the amount plucked from the sending district’s cherry sheet for each one is higher. And as Malone pointed out at the previous meeting, the loss of those students has other financial and educational impacts on the home district as well.
The 8th-grade enrollment figures Malone quoted at the recent meeting listed the other schools some had chosen to attend next year, including private and vocational schools.
For example: Of the 148 Ayer Shirley Middle School graduates, 22 have enrolled at Nashoba Tech, with the number about evenly divided between the two member towns. Both belong to the regional vocational high school district and are assessed each year based on the numbers.
A handful of ASRSD grads are enrolled at Monty Tech, another vocational-technical high school in Fitchburg. And some students are headed for private parochial high schools, including St. Bernard’s in Fitchburg and Lowell Catholic.
A small number have been accepted at the Parker Charter School in Devens.
So far this year, between 32 and 42 new students have registered in the district, administrative assistant Laura Callahan said.
Other enrollment figures in the district’s four schools included 10 new students at the Lura A. White Elementary School in Shirley and a total of 401 high school students, 60 more than last year.
Enrollment at Page Hilltop Elementary in Ayer went down by 13 students and middle school enrollment is also “slightly down,” after a “very big” graduating class left the building this spring, Malone said.
Malone stressed, however, that none of these numbers are set in stone. As she sees it, enrollment figures are not “firm” until the kids are seated when school starts on Sept. 1.
In other business, the committee heard good news from Finance Director Bill Plunkett, who reported the fiscal year 2015 budget closeout.
After sketching the timeline, he noted that the district will end the fiscal year with a “modest balance” after tapping the general fund for a list of necessary items, including 90 Chrome tablets for teachers, classroom projectors, new band uniforms for $50,000, drainage and catch basins in the Page Hilltop parking lot and $10,000 for roof clearing after a series of snowstorms last winter, about half of which will likely be reimbursed by FEMA, he said.
In addition, the general fund covered bus transportation for 4th- and 5th-grade students to attend the “Star Base” program at Hanscom Air Force Base.
Plunkett said the end-of-year report will be filed with the state on Oct. 31, with the district’s emergency “E&D” (Excess and Deficiency) fund certified shortly thereafter.