Newton Student Enrollment is on the Rise; School Committee Continues Facilities Discussion

The annual enrollment analysis was presented at the School Committee meeting last night, along with an update on short- and long-term facilities.

For members of the Newton School Committee, last night's enrollment analysis . 

As it has for the last seven years, Newton's student population continued to increase into the 2011-2012 school year. That upward trend is likely to continue over the next five years, Deputy Superintendent/Chief Administrative Officer Sandy Guryan reported last night. 

With those growing numbers, School Committee members underlined the impact on aging, crowded facilities as well as a strained school budget. 

"Obviously the growth is significant in [its impact on] space, but it also has budget implications," said School Committee member Jonathan Yeo, adding, "The city needs more revenue to run our school system. Without that revenue there is no way we are going to have that quality of education."

Over the last seven years, the student population has grown 7 percent, or 654 students, to total 11,922 this school year. In the next five years, that population is projected to increase another 774 students, or 6.5 percent. 

Although the growth trend is similar to what has been presented in recent years, one slight change is the number of students headed to the high school. A large middle school population will now shift to the high schools, Guryan explained. 

That upward trend in the high schools will begin next year and continue, Guryan said, as this year's kindergarten class of 895 is expected to reach 989 by the time it reaches Grade 9.

"The growth that we’re experiencing is not typical of other Massachusetts communities," Guryan said, noting the exception of neighboring Brookline. 

Aside from total population numbers, the School Department will also have to keep an eye on the split between populations at Newton North and South. School Committee member Margie Ross Decter pointed out that current projections place North at more than 2,000 students by the 2015-2016 school year.

"It's something we should watch," Guryan said. "Depending on where the population is a year from now, we will want to take a closer look."

Some other key figures presented during last night's enrollment analysis include:

  • This year's kindergarten population (895) is the eighth highest kindergarten class since a 1971-72 peak of 1,063 students.
  • By the 2016-17 school year, elementary school students will be up 175 students from today's population. Middle school students will increase by 156 and high school students will increase by 443.
  • The middle school population has grown 9 percent (214 students) since 2007-08 and is expected to grow another 6 percent over the next two years. 
  • The number of English Language Learners (ELL) has grown 42 percent over the last five years, from 553 students (2006-07) to 783 (present). That number grew 2 percent over the last year. 
  • Special Education populations are also on the rise, with a total of 2,345 special education students, or 19.7 percent, in 2011 (excluding preschoolers).
  • Both Avalon residential communities (Newton Highlands and Chestnut Hill) have increased student population for the second year. The Avalon at Newton Highlands added 11 students this year, Chestnut Hill added seven students and the Arborpoint at Woodland Station added just one student. 

To review the full enrollment report, click the .pdf above. 

Facilities update

Following the enrollment presentation, the committee received an update on both short- and long-term facilities, a topic the group will continue to discuss as populations increase and school buildings continue to age.

As for the short-term projects, which include modular classroom additions at four elementary schools and additions at , the sprinkler estimates have pushed the total cost of the two projects to more than $9.1 million, Guryan said.

With the sprinkler installment mandated by law, Mayor Setti Warren in its Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). That will pair with an additional $5 million the city had already set aside in the CIP for the project construction. 

Public Building Commissioner Stephanie Gilman said each school will require a slightly different set-up and approach to the sprinkler system. City and School Department officials are working with consultants to determine the best system for each school, she said.

Last week, the Board of Aldermen , including some extra contingency and design costs. 

As for long-term facilities, Guryan said HFMH Architects has completed its update to the district's long-range facilities plan, incorporating the numbers from the November 2011 enrollment analysis. 

Even with the update, the top priorities continue to be the renovation or rebuilding of , , and elementary schools, Guryan said.

Mayor Setti Warren noted that the city is continuing to move ahead with the feasibility study as well as the design for renovation and construction at Carr School, which would be used as a "swing space" during other district renovations. 

However, , Warren said additional funding source will be needed to complete any rebuilding project at Angier Elementary. 

Warren added that he is forming a working group comprised of School Committee members, aldermen and school staff, who will address the CIP projects and funding needs. 

Nevertheless, HMFH Principal Architect Lori Cowles said last night said other measures will need to be taken to help with school population.

"The truth of the matter is that redistricting needs to happen," Cowles said, noting that some schools (Horace Mann, Zervas) are maxed out on space for additions or modular classrooms. 

The School Committee will hold a joint meeting with the Board of Aldermen on Dec. 8 to discuss facilities. The meeting will take place in the library and starts at 7 p.m.

Editor's note: There was continued discussion last night of the fiscal 2013 budget guidelines as well as several other items of note. Stay tuned later this week for more updates from the meeting.


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