The latest census of Martha's Vineyard schools shows a 2.3 percent decline in the number of students since last year, continuing a trend of declining enrollment at Island public schools, except for the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School.
The charter school increased enrollment from 160 students in 2006, to 172 students this year, the highest level of enrollment since the school opened in 1996.
According to the Oct. 1 enrollment census, there were 2,120 students attending town elementary schools and the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), a decline of 49 students from the previous year.
The trend is most apparent at the high school. The census shows 766 students attending the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, a decrease of 36 students from last year, representing a decline of 4.5 percent.
For the first time in five years, MVRHS enrollment has fallen below 800 students.
"There's been a trend Island-wide at the elementary level, and it's finally caught up with the high school," said Martha's Vineyard public school superintendent James Weiss. "We anticipate that decline will continue. Our estimate for next year, there will be 720 students."
The latest figures represent a decline of nearly 10 percent in the total public school enrollment since the 2002 census, when there were 2,350 students enrolled.
"Those people who are residing here year-round have fewer youngsters. We believe the cost of living here certainly makes a difference," said Mr. Weiss.
Mr. Weiss said that, according to New England School Development Council projections, public high school enrollment will continue to decline, Oak Bluffs School enrollment will stay the same or grow slightly, and the other elementary schools will continue to decline.
Declining enrollment has a tangible effect on the school budget, and on the curriculum.
"We are looking for possible reductions in staffing and other expenses," said Mr. Weiss. "Now, that might not be a reduction in the budget, but it would be a cost avoidance. The overall bottom line wouldn't go down. We have to look at the programs we offer. It's not just the budget. Can you still offer three languages? Can you still offer the same number of advanced placement (AP) courses?"
The three towns showing the largest percentage of decline in students attending MVRHS are Aquinnah, Edgartown, and West Tisbury.
The number of students from Aquinnah fell from 27 in the 2006 census, to 20 in the 2007 census.
The number of students from Edgartown fell from 198 to 182, and from West Tisbury from 156 to 130.
The count shows an increase in the number of students from Chilmark, from 26 in 2006, to 33 this year.
The towns of Oak Bluffs and Tisbury showed a slight increase in enrollment.
At the elementary level, there was a decrease in the town of Tisbury, and an increase in West Tisbury, while the other towns recorded small variations.
In Tisbury, enrollment is down to 283, from 308 in the previous census.
In West Tisbury, 297 students are attending elementary school this year, up from 273 last year.
The census recorded 1,354 students enrolled in public elementary schools, a decrease of 13 students from the previous year's census.
In looking at enrollment in relationship to school budgets, in fiscal year 2007 (FY07), for example, 1,044 students were enrolled in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury schools. The operating budgets for the three down-Island schools totaled about $14,715,000 (not including benefits, insurance, Charter School and School Choice assessments, and debt reduced by general fund revenues).
For the 323 students enrolled in Chilmark and West Tisbury schools in FY07, the combined operating budgets totaled about $5,901,764 (including employees' health insurance). The regional high school had an enrollment of 802 in FY07 and an operating budget of about $15,991,782 (including benefits, insurance, Charter School and School choice assessments, capital costs, and debt reduced by general fund revenues).
Demand for enrollment at the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School continues to far exceed the available slots. "We have created a public school that is attractive to a diverse group of families, and they continue to support it," said director Bob Moore.
There are about 110 students on a waiting list, up from 100 last year, according to Mr. Moore. Open spots are designated by lottery.
Funding for the Charter School is capped at nine percent of each Island school district's budget, which translates into a set number of students from each town. "We're the only charter school in the state that has reached those cap limits," said Mr. Moore. "It affects us a little more precariously than it does other schools who are dealing with larger school districts."
Both Mr. Moore and Mr. Weiss say that, in their respective systems, the number of special education students remains about the same as last year. Also remaining steady from year to year is the number of students who speak English as a second language.