The Cape area’s population of PK-3 students grew by 1% in the past year according to data published by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Area schools now enroll 88 more students than they did in Fiscal 2013. See the chart at the bottom.
PK-3 enrollment is not affected by charter or vocational school migration. While school choice is available at the PK-3 level, most parents tend to avoid sending their child on a long-distance trip to the lower elementary grades.
Most area districts reported modest gains in PK-3 enrollment or very small losses.
Big gains in Barnstable, Provincetown
Barnstable Public Schools gained 8.25% at the PK-3 level, with 112 more students enrolled than last fiscal year. However, Barnstable’s overall PK-3 loss since 2001 remains at 30.51%
Provincetown gained 8.2% at the PK-3 level, though this reflects an increase of only 5 students in the tiny school district.
Losses of concern
Wellfleet Elementary School lost 10.71% of its enrollment this year – a net loss of 15 students – while Orleans lost 8.28% or 13 students.
It should be noted that Orleans Elementary is no longer reporting Pre-K students. Last year 22 students were enrolled in Pre-K at OES.
In Mashpee the PK-3 enrollment fell 5.21%, a net loss of 31 students. More significant than the Orleans/Wellfleet losses, Mashpee’s situation is likely one of a smaller population of elementary school-aged children in town.
Mashpee could view this as an opportunity to recover by aggressively recruiting PK-3 school choice students from Falmouth and Bourne.
Brewster’s two elementary schools recovered nicely at the PK-3 level but still show a net loss of 21.99% since 2001. Brewster’s schools are both under-enrolled compared to their “built” capacity. Should Brewster ever choose to open for school choice – and be aggressive about it - this could shift a number of students from Orleans, 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 will create a challenge for Monomoy as well as draw students from Eastham and perhaps Brewster.
Mashpee superintendent Brian Hyde seems the entrepreneurial type. Should he bolster his district’s image, Mashpee’s elementary schools could become an appealing school choice option for families in Falmouth, Bourne or perhaps Sandwich.
Looking at the Lower Cape’s six independent elementary districts, the overall drop in enrollment since 2001 begs the question of how it is cost effective to maintain six more or less stand-alone districts with three superintendents, six school committees and principals.
While many people believe that there’s something unique about hyper-local control of the elementary school, others believe the primary appeal of the “independent” elementary school is the opportunity for the town to “sandbag” municipal expenses to the school budget.
With increasingly standardized curricula, the former argument looks increasingly misguided. The latter argument, if true, will continue until the taxpayers seize the initiative.