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Enrollment issues aren’t going away

Declining enrollment is the issue public school districts throughout our region are facing. In the Jaffrey-Rindge School District, it’s led to a decision to shrink the music program for the coming school year; in the ConVal District, it has Bennington Select Board members talking and wondering if a rising trend in home-schooling is a factor; and it has ConVal administrators wondering if combining kindergarten and first grade may be necessary in some elementary schools in the coming school year. Wilton-Lyndeborough School District voters approved a plan this year to combine elementary schools, in part to address lower enrollment numbers.

It’s an issue that’s not going away. People in the ConVal and Jaffrey-Rindge districts have been talking about declining enrollment for years. The question is: how are we dealing with it?

The Pine Ridge neighborhood in Peterborough, which sprawls out next to South Meadow School used to be teeming with children. Today, it’s often a welcome surprise to find children playing outside there, or walking home from school. There are other neighborhoods like that in Peterborough, too.

In 1997, overall ConVal district enrollment was 3,036 students; by 2013, it was 704 less than that at 2,332.

Declines are also noticeable in the Jaffrey-Rindge District: In 2009 there were 538 students attending Conant High School; in 2013 there were 440 students.

In the ConVal School District, there are some voices calling for another look at consolidation, perhaps of elementary schools. Matt Craig of Sharon, a former School Board member, is among them. He’s even established a website, saveconvalcosts.blogspot.com, as a means of reaching out to others on the subject. He has two main questions for district voters: “Should the residents of ConVal towns keep eight elementary schools open and running in perpetuity, regardless of cost?” and, “Are the residents of ConVal towns willing to forgo both significant tax savings and educational benefits, in order to keep eight elementary schools open?” He’s suggested that the informal survey may lead to a petition warrant article to change the Articles of Agreement next year. ConVal’s Articles of Agreement call for elementary schools to be maintained in all the district’s towns except Sharon.

Studies by the New England School Development Council and the Carsey Institute both show that declining enrollment in our schools isn’t a problem that’s going away anytime soon, as Deb McGrath of Francestown has pointed out in previous op-eds. The failure of ConVal’s budget at polls we hope will be a wake-up call that something needs to be done. And in the Jaffrey-Rindge district, we hope the community will find a way to continue making necessary cuts without sacrificing the arts.

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