Cape area public schools serve 28,353 this year according to data published by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), 265 fewer than in Fiscal 2013. This represents a drop of .93% over last year’s enrollment. Area schools enrolled 21.54% fewer students than they did in Fiscal 2001. See the chart at the bottom.
For the smaller school districts on the Lower Cape, a drop of just a few students can skew percentages. For example, Wellfleet Elementary School’s enrollment dropped by 15 students but that’s a 10.71% loss in such a small school.
The Good News
Eight area districts’ enrollment grew this year. Brewster (1.71%), Eastham (3.41%), Provincetown (1.87%), Nauset (2.52%), Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter (4.82%), Sturgis Charter Public School (8.66%), Falmouth (.14%), Upper Cape Regional Vocational (3.04%) all showed positive enrollment numbers.
Cape Cod Regional Tech in Harwich enrolled exactly the same number of students (654) as it did in Fiscal 2013.
Bourne’s 2.8% drop is likely indicative of the migration of students to Upper Cape Tech and other school choice options. As we reported in our July 5, 2013 story, this is likely as much a result of the town’s demographics as anything “right” or “wrong” that the school district did.
Sandwich’s 3.19% loss takes them to an enrollment drop of 25.82% since 2001. Sandwich is planning for the closure of one K-8 building and adding eighth grade to Sandwich High School in the guise of a STEM Academy.
Dennis-Yarmouth’s loss of 1.71% translates into a 31.08% loss since 2001. This is perhaps the most concerning number among area school districts. Dennis-Yarmouth suffered a net loss of 268 students to school choice and also sends students to charters and Cape Tech. All Cape districts are working hard to sharpen their competitive edge, perhaps most of all Dennis-Yarmouth. It is difficult for DY to make headway against the tide of declining population and the rich school choice options available to its students.
The Monomoy Regional School District slowed its decline from a net loss of 69 students last year to 11 this year. Compared to the 2001 enrollments of Chatham and Harwich, Monomoy currently enrolls 18.31% fewer students than thirteen years ago.
Brewster’s two elementary schools recovered slightly this year but have lost 30.87% of their students since 2001. Should Brewster choose to open for school choice, this could create a significant drain on both Monomoy and Dennis-Yarmouth.
Orleans has opened for a small number of school choice students. Should that elementary district become more aggressive with school choice it may create a further challenge for Monomoy.
The two charter schools are enrolled at full capacity. Since their enrollment is determined by an open lottery, it is difficult to forecast how its district-by-district breakdown will look. Enrollment-by-lottery is both a challenge to traditional school districts as well as to the charters themselves, since a swing in enrollment towards the mid-Cape districts means the charters receive less money per student, creating a “budget by lottery” situation.
A Shrinking Market
The Cape education “market” continues to contract. With a loss of 21.54% since 2001, and Cape area districts continue to sharpen both their budget pencils and their competitive skills.
Thus far we have seen several elementary schools close in the mid-Cape area, the consolidation of Chatham/Harwich and the loss of Provincetown High School. Most of these districts hit their tipping point in the past five years. Should we continue to lose school-age population at the current rate, it is likely school districts will hit another tipping point in about five years.
Many people believe that in a decade there will be three or four regional school districts covering the entire Cape region. If enrollment continues to fall it seems assured that there will certainly be fewer than exist today.