High school enrollment stable; elsewhere trend is down
Over five years, total school population has fallen seven percent
The Martha's Vineyard Public Schools census figures released last week show an almost three percent decrease in enrollment, continuing a downward trend that has persisted over the past five years.
The total number of students listed on the enrollment census taken October 1 was 2,219, down 66 students from last year. Five years ago, enrollment totaled 2,435.
Of the six Island schools, Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury showed the biggest drop in numbers. However, the student population at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) remains fairly stable, up slightly this year at 822.
At Oak Bluffs School, total enrollment at 391, down by 43 students from last year. Five years ago, the school's enrollment peaked at 460 students. Although last year's large kindergarten class of 56 was viewed as a possible upward trend, this year's class dropped by more than half to 25.
"It's a great unknown. We try to look at school population trends, and unfortunately, they're never consistent," said Laury Binney, Oak Bluffs School principal.
"We can't carry three classrooms for 25 kids. For kindergarten next year, the preliminary numbers are higher than a year ago, but still not at a place where we feel comfortable with three classrooms. But we won't know until spring kindergarten enrollment what the actual numbers will be," said Mr. Binney. School choice students and children from home daycare programs also factor in.
The Oak Bluffs school committee and School Advisory Committee will meet his week to consider options for staffing next year, based on the census numbers. The numbers also have an impact on planning for future needs at the high school, said James Weiss, superintendent of the Martha's Vineyard Public Schools.
"We try and see if there is a trend there, looking at the numbers from the last couple of kindergarten classes," said Mr. Weiss. "We will need to look very closely at our enrollments and make some decisions. We will use these numbers to begin to look at budgets, staffing, classrooms, and those kinds of things in planning ahead."
The West Tisbury School also demonstrated a sizeable drop in enrollment, down to 299 students, 24 fewer than last year. Students in grades 1, 4 and 7 decreased by 10, 11 and 15, respectively.
Some of the impact on enrollment may be due to the charter school, said Mr. Weiss, since its location in West Tisbury makes it a convenient hometown alternative for families who live there.
This year, 158 students attend the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School. The enrollment is capped at nine percent of each Island school district's budget, which translates into a certain number of students from each town. Bob Moore, the principal, said that his school plans to maintain its present enrollment number, although their contract from the state would allow up to 180 students.
Enrollment in the Chilmark and Edgartown schools remained close to last year's figures, varying by only a few students. At Chilmark School, the number of kindergarten students dropped from 10 to 6, and grade 3 students from 14 to 6. However, the number of grade 1 students almost doubled.
The number of grade 8 students showed the biggest drop at Edgartown School, down from 55 last year to 38 this year. Grades 3 and 6, however, gained students, up by 14 and 10 respectively.
Enrollment changed only by one student at Tisbury School this year. The biggest drop was seen in grade 4 students, down to 25 from last year's 42.
At the high school, the numbers have demonstrated an upward trend over the past 10 years, with the student population over 800 for the past 5.
"What it seems in looking at the numbers is that in addition to whoever graduates from our elementary schools, including the charter school, there are about 15 to 20 students who arrived over the summer," said Margaret (Peg) Regan, MVRHS principal.
"That brings our total up over about 20 students above the class size coming up from eighth grade," Ms. Regan said. "It has been pretty much stable over the last six years that we've had this additional number of students coming up. It's an interesting phenomenon." She explained that some students transferred into the high school from the charter school or to private schools such as Falmouth Academy.
There also is what Ms. Regan calls "a sort of fudge factor" in students who come to the Island to attend the high school. "Some come with their parents, and have winter rentals while they live here to attend school, and some come to live with a grandmother, aunt, or other relative," she said. "There also are some kids who come from the cities, such as New York, Baltimore and Providence, whose parents want them to attend school in a different setting other than a big city."
Ms. Regan said there also is an influx of some new Brazilian students starting school at the high school level. "The ESL 1 [English as a Second Language] students are usually new students to us, who haven't taken English classes in the earlier grades," she said.
This year there are 103 students Island-wide receiving ESL services, according to Deborah Hart, hired as English Language Learners (ELL) director for this school year. Numbers by town include 4 in Chilmark, 33 in Tisbury, 19 in Oak Bluffs, 23 in Edgartown, and 4 in West Tisbury, as well as 3 at the charter school and 20 at the high school.
Although Brazilian students make up the majority of ESL students on the Island, Ms. Hart said, others include Russian children living in Chilmark, Vietnamese and Israeli children living in Tisbury, Chinese and Ecuadorian children living in Edgartown, and Indian children living in Oak Bluffs.
Factors such as diversity in school population as well as census figures will figure into planning for staffing and programs as schools head into the budget process in the next few months.
Despite census numbers that remain flat or drop, however, the cost of education slowly continues to slowly. For example, school department budgets for the down-Island schools are as follows (not including benefits and insurance): Edgartown School, $4,807,939 in FY05 and $4,944,140 in FY06 (an increase of 2.83 percent); Tisbury School, $3,985,385 in FY05 and $4,166,500 in FY06 (up by 4.54 percent); and Oak Bluffs School, $4,833,737 in FY05 and $5,140,910 in FY06 (up by 6.35 percent).
Factoring into escalating costs are increased staffing needs because of testing, higher energy costs and changing contractual obligations for teacher union contracts, said Amy Tierney, assistant to the superintendent for business affairs.
In looking at school budgets, Ms. Tierney also said, "There's a little bit of differentiation between our schools that makes it difficult to make comparisons between them."