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April 17, 2019 Likes Comments

Newton schools can accommodate new developments

Mayor Ruthanne FullerBy Mayor Ruthanne Fuller

How many students can we expect to have, especially if the City Council approves some large projects such as Riverside and Northland?

An in-depth demographic study of how the four proposed large developments would impact the Newton Public Schools shows that the new housing (1,775 units) would create only a small amount of new enrollment. The study forecast only 83 additional students district-wide over the next decade.

Why is there such a small impact from 1,775 new units?

The study commissioned by the Newton Public Schools shows that with no new development, enrollment would drop by more than 200 students over the next decade.

The number of new students is now leveling off after 13 years of steady growth which saw 1,417 additional students or a 13 percent increase since 2004-2005 to 12,685 students this year.

This demographic information is important to determine future school space needs and development decisions.

Cropper GIS conducted the analysis over three months from October to December 2018. Cropper GIS is a professional team of demographers, geographers and planners. The team has consulted with school districts across the country, including Arlington, Belmont, Needham and Wellesley. They use a myriad of data including census figures, real estate transactions, and birth rates to develop a detailed enrollment forecast.

The demographers paid particular attention to who is moving in and out of Newton, their ages, how likely they are to have school-aged children or to have more children, among other things.

Cropper GIS found that more students are currently graduating from the Newton Public Schools than are currently entering kindergarten. Moreover, this trend is likely to continue for at least the next 10 years.

A number of factors drive the conclusion that Newton is facing declining enrollment in the absence of new housing development.

The bulk of Newton’s population is between 40 and 64 years old and the median age is increasing slightly from 40.5 at the time of the 2010 Census, to 42.5 in 2030. This means most Newton households will have no new children entering kindergarten. Demographers also found that people are not typically moving out of Newton until their 70s. The catalyst for moving is often the death of a spouse or transportation challenges.

Future enrollment in Newton is more closely tied to the age of people living here, not the predicted number of new homes, condos or apartments.

The enrollment forecast considered the impact of four specific proposed large developments using information from October 2018: Northland – 822 rental units which might be built between 2023 and 2027 in the Countryside area (Note: Northland now is asking to build 800 units); Chestnut Hill Square – 100 units projected to be built in 2024 in the Memorial-Spaulding area (Note: plans approved and now held); Riverside – 663 units which might be built between 2023 and 2026 in the Williams area (Note: 675 units now proposed); and Riverdale – 200 units which might be built between 2025 and 2026 in the Lincoln-Eliot area (Note: still in the concept stage). Additional proposals are likely, including one in West Newton Square with 462 units.

Some additional interesting findings:

  • The fertility rate in Newton is “below replacement level.”
  • The primary factors causing school enrollment to stabilize over the next 10 years include a substantial increase in households with no school-age children, relatively few options for seniors looking for affordable housing in and around Newton, and the number of young families moving into Newton.
  • The growth rate, the number of new units, and price of existing home sales - even with anticipated new construction over the next 10 years - results in little change in total population and the overall number of students.
  • Elementary enrollment will slowly increase after 2022-23 primarily if there is new construction.
  • Middle School enrollment will sharply increase for the next three years until 2023, primarily because of the current number of students in the late elementary grades.
  • High School enrollment will be affected starting in the 2021-22 school year by the current bulge, resulting in an increase of 250 students by 2025-26.
  • Overall, the number of students in 10 years is forecast to be similar to today, but pockets of growth in certain parts of Newton matter a lot.

The School Committee will discuss long and short-term space needs at its May 13 meeting at the Ed Center.

This article originally appeared in Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s email newsletter.

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