Cape School Districts shrink 23.73% in past ten years

   Cape School population shrink by a quarter from Grade 2 to Grade 12 in the past decade


   In most Cape school districts, the class of 2012 dropped shrank by 24% between 2002 and 2012.  Only the Nauset region experienced growth in the class it graduated last June.  Data obtained from Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Class of 2012 shed 477 students between 2002 and 2012

By Walter Brooks

The Class of 2012 across the Cape’s municipal school districts numbered 1,533 students.  Ten years ago, when these kids were in second grade, there were 2,010 of them.  That’s a drop of 23.73% over the past decade, according to data provided by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Falmouth was hit hardest, with a drop of 47% from 324 second graders in 2002 to 170 seniors in 2012.Falmouth was hit hardest, with a drop of 47% from 324 second graders in 2002 to 170 seniors in 2012.  Dennis-Yarmouth’s class of 2012 shrank 37% in the same decade.

The only traditional school district that added students was Nauset, whose class of 2012 grew by 24.75% from 2002 to 2012.

Perhaps more alarming is the drop in second grade enrollment between 2002 and 2012.  Barnstable’s grade 2 shrank by a whopping 39%, while the Monomoy Region (formerly Chatham/Harwich) saw a loss of only 1.91% of its second grade enrollment during the past decade.

The only traditional school district that added students was Nauset, whose class of 2012 grew by 24.75% from '02 to '12.Note that Provincetown and Truro are not included in this study.  Truro is not a K-12 district and Provincetown is in the final year of its wind-down as a K-12 district.  Most of those two towns’ high school kids will attend Nauset, perhaps accounting for part of Nauset’s growth.

Where are the kids going?

Clearly the number of children in a town like Falmouth did not drop by 47%.  Indeed, Falmouth’s second grade population shrank by almost 13%.  What happened to the other 34%?   This is a question that is likely asked in every Cape school district.

As the Cape’s population of school aged children declines, the existing school districts are engaged in an escalating competition.Readers of Cape Cod Today are all too familiar with the concept of school competition.  As the Cape’s population of school aged children declines, the existing school districts are engaged in an escalating competition to attract school choice students to their district.  Some districts, such as Nauset and Monomoy, have been eminently successful as school choice destinations.  Others, such as Dennis-Yarmouth, have seen their enrollment savaged by an exodus of students to other districts’ school choice programs.

Meanwhile, Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis has built a second campus and is set to double its enrollment over the next few years.  More than 800 students will eventually attend the two Sturgis campuses.   Also in Hyannis we now have Pope John Paul II Catholic High School, an excellent draw for families seeking an affordable private high school.  For the financially elite, Cape Cod Academy and other private school options remain available.

Tech schools had had a modest increase in enrollment over the past decade.The Cape is also home to two excellent regional technical schools.  Many students who attend Upper Cape Regional Vocational Tech and Cape Cod Regional Tech are able to earn a decent living upon graduation, without the need for college debt.  While each of our tech schools had had a modest increase in enrollment over the past decade, the increase is insufficient to account for the shrinkage seen by every district except Nauset.

Finally, there is the two-pronged fork of “attrition” – both from families that leave the Cape in search of better opportunities and from students who choose to drop out of school prior to graduation.

What might the future hold?

A ten year budget forecast must be enough to make the most seasoned superintendent’s head ache.Between the shifting tides of school competition and the Cape’s declining population, planning a ten year budget forecast must be enough to make the most seasoned superintendent’s head ache.

History shows us that there was a 23% drop in the Class of 2012 in the school districts we examined.  Consider, too, that we have seen a 24% drop in second grade enrollment in these districts between 2002 and 2012.  If the trend of a 23.73% shrinkage between second and twelfth grade continues in the next ten years, the Cape might end up with fewer than 1,200 seniors graduating in the class of 2022.

That is enough students for one high school rather than the half dozen today

With the continued decline in the Cape’s population and the rise of serious competition between the school districts, it is safe to expect more mergers of Cape school districts over the next decade.

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