EASTHAM — Enrollment numbers for the Outer Cape’s public schools have finally arrived, and they show that existing trends here are getting worse. This year’s total enrollment in the Truro and Wellfleet elementary schools declined about 10 percent compared to the 2021-2022 school year. Nauset Regional High School in Eastham lost 6 percent of its student count, falling from 833 in the previous school year to 780 this year.
On a five-year time horizon, though, the situation at Nauset High looks more serious. In 2018 there were 937 students at the high school, and the numbers have declined by an average of 39 students every year since then, for a total loss of about 17 percent of the 2018 student count.
The Truro and Wellfleet elementary schools have had both ups and downs over the last five years, for a net loss of only about 7 percent of enrollment since 2018.
Eastham Elementary has had ups and downs as well; it has six fewer students this year compared to last. Over five years, however, it has come out ahead, going from 171 students in 2018 to 186 this year.
The Provincetown Schools, which include prekindergarten through eighth grade, are the outlier, having gained students every year since 2018.
The Nauset Regional High School renovation project was designed for an enrollment of no more than 905 students, based on a 2017 analysis conducted by the Mass. School Building Authority that projected a 2022 enrollment of 887 students.
That is 107 more students than actually enrolled this year. Even the projected number would have been well below Nauset’s 2010 enrollment of 972 students.
Nauset Regional Middle School has a student population of 533 this year, down about 6 percent from its 2021 enrollment.
Regional school committee Chair Chris Easley pinpointed several reasons for the decline. According to Easley, the ongoing construction at the high school’s campus, along with the modular structures that house temporary classrooms for students, are a deterrent for many families.
“Getting people to send their children to a school that is going to be under construction is a negative,” Easley said.
He also said the newly renovated Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich and the new Cape Cod Christian Academy in Brewster, which opened in 2020, contributed to the drop in Nauset High and Middle School numbers.
“We have a Christian school that is bursting at the seams and a new tech school that has impacted enrollment,” Easley said. “We are just coming out of Covid, so we know there are also a bunch of kids that went into homeschooling.”
“We’re kind of in a perfect storm as far as numbers,” Easley added.
Easley said that, despite the decline, Nauset cannot automatically fill its empty seats with school-choice students. These students come from towns outside the four-town school district, like Truro and Provincetown, which have agreements with the Nauset district to allow their grade 7 to 12 students to attend Nauset schools for a tuition fee of about $18,500 per student.
These agreements allow Truro and Provincetown to maintain direct control of their elementary schools, while Wellfleet and Eastham elementary schools are part of the Nauset District.
“School choice numbers are set in the spring for the following year,” Easley said. “It’s an established number.”
The school enrollment numbers across the Outer Cape portend a difficult path ahead, Easley said.
“The Cape is going to really have to address its school populations,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time for education to recover from Covid.”