In early October each year, all of the state’s public schools finalize their enrollment numbers for the new school year, and school aid from the state follows. At the Nauset Regional School District, the news is not good.
Every school except for Eastham Elementary has lost students, with the largest decline at Nauset Regional High School, which has 44 fewer students, according to the enrollment report released at the Oct. 8 regional school committee meeting. Next on the list was Brewster’s Eddy Elementary School, down by 35 students, followed by Orleans Elementary with 24 fewer students. Total losses for the district: 121 students.
The Stony Brook School, also in Brewster, had 11 fewer kids; Wellfleet elementary was down by three. Eastham elementary gained two students, while the Nauset Regional Middle School was down by six.
The only school on the Outer Cape with a significant increase in enrollment is Provincetown, up by 16 to a total of 147. The Truro Central School’s enrollment is 113, the same as last year.
Nauset school committee members expressed worry about the high school, which has seen a steady decline from a high in 2013 of 1,024 students. The current enrollment stands at 877.
A new high school is in the final stages of planning, designed for 905 students, according to the Mass. School Building Authority.
Ian Mack, a committee member, said local high schoolers have several choices, including the Sturgis Charter School, Cape Cod Regional Technical High School, and private schools. Why, he asked, is enrollment at the middle school holding steady while high school enrollment was dropping “so precipitously.”
Enrollment matters because the schools receive state funding based on the number of students who attend school in the district. This money offsets the fixed costs of buildings and equipment and affects the amount that local taxpayers must raise to fund the schools.
All of the schools on the Outer Cape have seen enrollment dwindle for years, as families leave because they can’t afford housing. According to the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts, 242 babies were born in the four towns of the Nauset district in 1989. By 2014, 25 years later, only 113 births occurred in Wellfleet, Eastham, Orleans, and Brewster. Total enrollment in the Nauset schools was 3,207 in 1993; now it is 2,361.
The Outer Cape’s school buildings and staff need more kids to support what they already have.
That is why School Supt. Tom Conrad said, “We will need to dissect these [enrollment] numbers 10 times over before we get to budget season.”
A look at the data shows that the greatest draw away from the high school is Cape Cod Tech, the Harwich high school that recently underwent a major renovation. Ninety-two students living in the Nauset district went to the Tech this year. That’s up from 76 last year and 77 the year before.
“The [students going to] the Tech was not a surprise,” Conrad said. “They are going into a state-of-the-art facility, and we saw that would be attractive for kids.”
Only 10 high schoolers from the Nauset district went to Sturgis Charter School, the smallest number since 2011. In other years, as many as 25 made the drive from the Outer Cape to Sturgis, an International Baccalaureate school in Hyannis.
Nearly all the Nauset schools also lost students to private schools and home schooling, a trend that Conrad attributed to the coronavirus. No one on the school committee mentioned whether the inadequate ventilation at the aging Nauset Regional High School was to blame for driving students away. Repairing that system forced Nauset High to stay closed until Thursday, Oct. 15, when a hybrid system will begin and kids will be invited back two days a week.
Data showed that, due to Covid-19, seven previously enrolled high school students moved to private schools this year, two opted for home schooling, and two school choice kids returned to their own districts.
School choice refers to students who attend Nauset but live in other districts. In order to keep its numbers up, Nauset High has recruited between 190 and 236 school choice students per year since 2012. This year, 198 have “choiced in,” the first time in five years the number of choice students dropped under 200.
Conrad said choice kids come from all over the Cape. But the pandemic has made many parents rethink the long commute, he said. One reason: all mid and upper Cape students have one bus to get to Nauset. It’s at the Burger King at Exit 6. Sometimes that bus had 70 students on it, Conrad said. But due to Covid-19 regulations, less than half that number can ride it now.
“I knew that school choice was a worry,” Conrad said.
Outer Cape Oct. 2020 School Enrollment
Provincetown Schools: 147 (up 16 from last year)
Truro Central School: 113 (same as last year)
Wellfleet Elementary School: 105 (down 3)
Eastham Elementary School: 196 (up 2)
Orleans Elementary School: 175 (down 24)
Eddy Elementary School: 212 (down 35)
Stony Brook School: 213 (down 11)
Nauset Regional Middle School: 583 (down 6)
Nauset Regional High School: 877 (down 44)