HARVARD -- The birthrate is down. And so, by extrapolation, enrollment figures in the school will drop.
That was the gist of the report Interim School Superintendent Joseph Connelly delivered to the Harvard School Committee Tuesday night.
The relatively stagnant real estate market also plays a role. Harvard educates Devens students under contract with MassDevelopment. Thought there are 12 new Devens townhouses and 8 new Devens single-family homes under construction, Connelly said each Devens household statistically produces .6 children per house and so the 20 new units would statistically generate 12 new students for the school system over the next three years.
In a large town, that would have "no impact," said Connelly. But 12 new students represents a 16 percent increase over the 74 Devens students currently educated in Harvard in grades pre-K through 12th grade.
There were 1,210 students enrolled in the Harvard Public Schools as of Oct. 1. That figure includes 1,059 Harvard residents, 77 Choice students, and 74 Devens students.
Connelly said 3-year, 4-6 year, and 10-year enrollment data was reviewed. But 10 year data misses the 2006 secondary school, and 2008 elementary school contracts entered into with MassDevelopment for Devens children. Therefore the "best predictor for future Harvard enrollment" is the 4-6 year database for all grades except kindergarten.
Connelly said he has "overridden the indicators" and looks instead at a-year survival rates for kindergarteners. Five years ago, Harvard recorded 31 births. This fall, five years later, there are 60 students in the kindergarten class - a rough doubling of the five year old birth rate.
For kindergartners, therefore, Connelly uses the more closely matched 2.01 percent 3-year 'survival rate' multiplier to project kindergarten enrollment, since the 4-6 year survival rate 1.88 percent multiplier would project too few students.
"It's not too far-fetched to say we'll maintain that 2.01 percent [3-year survival rate] factor," said Connelly. "That plays a major factor down the road."
But Connelly warned that birth rates could drop further. "If that does happen, we could very well have more declining enrollment experienced than we're projecting."
School Choice figures contribute, too. Four of the 60 kindergartners are Choice students this year
Looking to next year, Harvard recorded 29 births four years ago. Next year at the five year mark, the statistical projection is that there will be double that number -- 58 students -- enrolled in kindergarten next year. "That's pretty typical of the numbers we've been getting," said Connelly.
There are 457 elementary school students (grades K-5) this year. Next year, the projection is for 452 students (down 5 students overall).
At Bromfield Middle School, there are 99 students this year. Next year that number is statistically expected to drop by two students to 97 between grades 6-8.
And at the Bromfield High School, there are 434 students now. The projection is for a drop of 15 students overall next year between grades 9-12.
The big hit is in the projected size of the senior class. There are 114 Bromfield seniors this year. Next year, that figure is statistically set to drop to 96 seniors.
Excluding the pre-K enrollment, there are 1,198 students in the school district as of Oct. 1 (grades K through 12). Next year, there's expected to be 32 fewer students spread among the 13 grades for a total projected enrollment of 1,166.
There are spin-off effects when looking in the long run. How many classrooms are needed? How many teachers are needed? Connelly said the central administration is reviewing the projections with these questions in mind.
The early projection for next year - and the Fiscal Year 2014 budget - is to keep the current number of class sections in place to comply with class size policies. A drop of 32 students over 13 grades "doesn't allow you to even think about reducing staff," said Connelly. Kindergarten and grade 1 are at "marginal" minimum class sizes to maintain four sections for each grade. Connelly said that will be watched throughout the spring and summer months.
The marked decline becomes evident on a look at enrollment figures over the next decade.
This year there are 457 elementary students in grades K through 5. Each year, more students would be lost, ranging from 2 up to 32 students lost per year over the next decade. By the 2021-2022 school year, the net elementary school enrollment figure would reflect 109 fewer students than this school year.
The middle school is to lose 102 students over the next decade, and the high school is to decrease by 82 students. District-wide, the Harvard School system is statistically projected to lose 293 students over current enrollment figures.
There are 1,198 students in K-12 now. In 2021-2022, the projection is that there'd be 905 students spread among the 13 grades.
"Clearly that's something we need to look at very closely," said Connelly. He re-emphasized that enrollment projections "are not an exact science." If any large real estate development is approved over the next decade, the picture could "change dramatically."
This year there are 33 elementary school classrooms filled of the 35 available at the school, leaving two "surplus" rooms at the moment. For the 2014-2015 school year, the projected need for space drops to 31 classrooms when the shrunken kindergarten and first-grade class sizes will be felt and the number of sections could fall from four sections per grade to three sections per grade.
In two more years, the need for space contracts further and only 29 classrooms would be in use at the elementary school. By school year 2020-2021, there are projected to be just three sections for each elementary school grade and 27 classrooms in use with eight surplus rooms available.
For the next two years, the middle school will use 52 classrooms where space needs begin to vary, but as enrollment declines at the middle and high school, "clearly" there'd be a need to look at staffing needs. "That won't happen for a few more years at Bromfield," said Connelly.
The declines "could be even greater" depending on birth rates, and Connelly added "school choice is not the total answer" if and when the district is smaller by 300 students. He encouraged the creation of a long-range plan to identify financial and educational concerns and solutions with the trends.
There's no budget impact in the coming year, said Connelly. But the report can be the basis for the school committee "to make some long range decisions" said Connelly.
School Committee member Keith Cheveralls encouraged the Enrollment Subcommittee "to really grab hold of this" and report to Annual Town Meeting on its findings.
"I've already started to receive phone calls about 'What are you going to do about student enrollment," said Cheveralls. Some have asked about the effect on elective offerings at the high school, for example. "Clearly we'll come under the microscope."
Cheveralls said the data is "startling" and reflects the "emergence of a trend."
"Are we an anomaly?" asked Cheveralls. Concord-Carlisle reports increased enrollment figures, though Connelly noted a new real estate development in that district was credited with that bump.
"There are skeptics out there that attack this work," said Cheveralls. "They say all say things don't remain equal. They're right." On the flip side, the "enrollment decline could be steeper."