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March 08, 2019 Likes Comments

Fuller: Newton schools can handle new developments

Newton South High School

Photo: Newton South High School

Newton Public Schools will have no difficulty accommodating an influx of students even if four proposed or pending mixed-use developments are approved by the City Council, a new city-funded study shows.

In fact, without the additional students from the additional housing units, school enrollment is expected to decline, according to Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller.

Professional demographers hired by Newton Public Schools began by evaluating current trends and projects already under construction. They then added in the projected impacts from a total of 1,785 potential new apartments from Northland on Needham Street, the Riverside Station in Auburndale, Riverdale in Nonantum and Chestnut Hill Square.

“The full enrollment report will be available in the next month or two, but the preview indicates that even if all four proposals are eventually approved by the City Council, enrollment would continue to be manageable with just a slight increase in students,” Fuller announced in a statement.

“Without the yet-to-be-approved developments, projections show an enrollment decline,” the mayor added.

Newton’s total public school enrollment is at about 12,700 students now, down from an early 60’s peak of 18,000 and up from an early 80’s low of 9,000.

This year -- after 13 years of increases -- 65 fewer students enrolled in the Newton Public Schools, while five-year enrollment projections show the numbers remaining stable.

“The key to dealing with enrollment changes is to study and update the data continuously, and make adjustments where necessary,” said Newton School Committee Vice Chair Steve Siegal. “We have two big factors that interact with each other — broad regional demographic trends -- the waning of the baby boom echo -- that is causing school enrollments to drop all over eastern Massachusetts and new developments that bring in new families with kids to the most desirable communities, like Newton, Brookline and Lexington.

“The steeper curve dictates what happens to Newton enrollments going forward. As of right now and with current projections, these curves cancel and we expect to be able to handle future enrollment within our current school buildings, with the possible exception of the short term bump in our middle schools.”

Overall enrollment at the elementary level is projected to remain steady or to decrease slightly. Middle school enrollment is projected to grow and then decrease over the next five years.

The same study projects that high school enrollment will be relatively steady for a couple of years and then starts growing in the fall of 2022. It keeps growing until 2026 and then levels out. Class sizes and the percent of classes with 25 or more students at both high schools are slightly lower than last year.

The five-year enrollment forecasts include the Austin Street and Washington Place projects currently under construction in Newtonville.

“That’s good news for our schools, but it doesn’t mean our work is done. We need to make sure all our school buildings are in good condition and we keep our eyes on class sizes to make sure they are appropriate in all our schools and all our grades,” Fuller said.

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