Enrollments continue to decline across Capital area – but not everywhere

  • Students return to their classrooms after a lunch Friday at Bow Elementary School. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • A third grade class eats lunch at Bow Elementary School in Bow on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Students return to their classrooms after a lunch period at Bow Elementary School in Bow on Friday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Fourth grade students enjoy a recess period on the playground at Bow Elementary School in Bow on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Sunday, December 10, 2017

Continuing a multi-year trend, the total number of students enrolled at public schools in the region declined again this year, although certain districts – mostly affluent – are seeing a sustained bump in enrollment.

Across 10 capital area districts, the number of students in public schools has dropped below 20,000, with about 830 fewer students than five years ago, for an overall decline of about 6 percent. Some schools are declining faster than others, and a few have even grown a little since 2012.

With 1,843 K-12 students this fall, SAU 67 – which includes Bow and Dunbarton – has seen its enrollment tick upwards every year since 2013, when the total headcount stood at 1,578. Between this year and last, the total number of students went up by 38, according to the Monitor’s count.

“Anecdotally, people say they’re walking around their neighborhoods and people are pushing strollers again,” said SAU 67 superintendent Dean Cascadden.

Like districts across the state, Bow and Dunbarton saw a decade-long decline in students. They merged in 2013 and have seen more students moving in, especially in the younger grades, ever since.

The growth is creating some logistical issues for the district. This year, Dunbarton will put a warrant on the ballot to add three classrooms at the elementary school, where overcrowding led the district to revert back to a half-day kindergarten program. And in Bow, a renovation project for the elementary school that’s slated for the ballot next year might also include an expansion if the growth doesn’t level off.

“There definitely is not extra room in the schools right now,” Cascadden said.

Still, Cascadden said the district’s not counting on the growth continuing indefinitely. If Concord starts offering a full-day kindergarten program next year – which Bow already offers – he thinks it’s possible more younger families could choose the city.

“We’re definitely not predicting that the growth that we’ve had will continue, but we’re keeping a close eye on it,” he said.

Hopkinton, too, is on the rise. Enrollment has ticked upward every year since 2014 – when the district counted 847 students – with the headcount now at 942.

Superintendent Steve Chamberlin said the
district is noticing significant
in-migration in the younger grades. While most of the district’s schools still have room for extra students, the Harold Martin School, which serves students from preschool to grade 3, is basically at capacity.

Chamberlin speculated full-day kindergarten could be a draw, but said the district has also defined itself through its small classes.

“If you really believe in small schools, in personalization and that intimacy, Hopkinton’s that option right now,” he said.

Real-estate agents in the area say buyers often seek Bow and Hopkinton out specifically for their education systems. With high test scores and graduation rates, the two towns’ schools frequently top the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings in New Hampshire. And with interest rates low, there’s been more movement in the market.

“Those two communities are definitely magnet communities for education. Their reputations are really great,” said Stephen Marder, a
capital-area realtor with the Masiello Group.

Steve DeStefano, a
real-estate agent with Century 21 that does business in Bow and Concord, said he’s noticed a trend of families moving from the Catholic school system in the Manchester area into Bow. Despite the town’s higher property taxes, families are calculating they can still save when they stop paying tuition at a private school.

“It’s a matter of numbers,” he said.

Both said people seem to be coming in from elsewhere in the state, but also outside.

“Last ones that I had move in to Bow were from New Jersey. And before that was South Carolina,” Marder said.

Elsewhere in the region, districts are either seeing a slow trickle – or a precipitous decline.

Concord continues to lose a little more than one percent of its students each year. It went from 4,737 students in 2012 to 4,463 this fall, a six-percent decrease over five years. It lost about 1.6 percent of its students between this year and last.

“As always, it means we’ll be taking a look at our staffing needs,” said Superintendent Terri Forsten.

Merrimack Valley, too, is seeing a steady decrease. It lost about 8 percent of its student body between 2012, when its headcount stood at 2,597, and this fall, when it had 2,403 students. The Kearsarge Regional district saw a six-percent decrease in enrollment over five years, going from 1,825 students in 2012 to 1,719 this fall. SAU 53 – which encompasses Chichester, Pembroke, Epsom, Deerfield and Allenstown – has seen a 7.5 percent decline over five years, going from 3,201 in 2012 to 2,978 in 2017.

Pittsfield, the smallest autonomous district in the area, has seen its enrollment fluctuate up and down over the past five years, but remains around 560 students. It had 557 students in 2012 and 565 in 2017. SAU 24, which serves Stoddard, Henniker and Weare, has also seen its enrollment stay basically the same, with 2,154 students in 2012, and 2,104 students in 2017.

Franklin has lost the greatest share of students – 22 percent – over a five year period, going from 1,215 students in 2012 to 991 in 2017. Some of that includes students lost when the town of Hill stopped sending its students to Franklin High in 2015, but declines have continued since. Between last year and this fall, the Franklin school system lost about 7 percent of its students.

The steep drop in students has hit the struggling district hard. With state aid tied to student enrollment – and the state pulling back from the extra money it allots poorer districts – fewer students has led to faculty layoffs.

LeGallo is in his third year with the district. Over his short tenure, he said he’s probably seen as many as a dozen teaching positions cut.

“It’s getting pretty trying,” he said.


(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)


About our data: For the current school year, we used figures provided to us by school districts, collected Oct. 2. Data from prior years was gathered from the state at my.doe.nh.gov/profiles. Because not every school offers it, we excluded pre-school and readiness from our headcounts. Though they include multiple individual districts, the enrollments for SAUs 67, 53, and 24 are consolidated in our count.