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SCHOOLS: Declining Enrollments May Drive Expanded School Choice In District

To address future trends in student enrollments and financial changes, the School Committee is considering expanding school choice enrollments in district schools.

The Committee heard a report on this issue prepared by Swallow Union Principal Peter Myerson at their April 10 meeting. Myerson noted that slightly declining student enrollments will continue over the next several years and this trend will open some space in certain grade levels for new students.

Coupled with this trend in student enrollment is the change in state funding of reimbursements for charter school enrollments. Since the advent of charter schools in Massachusetts, the state has partially reimbursed school districts for students who leave the district and enroll in charter schools. That funding practice is changing and the state is gradually eliminating reimbursements to school districts for charter school students.

With these trends as a backdrop, the School Committee heard a report on why the district should expand its enrollment of School Choice students. Currently, the School District enrolls 37 School Choice students and 30 of those students are at the high school with five at the middle school and two at elementary schools. Myerson's report recommended adding 30 additional School Choice students mostly at the elementary and middle school level.

The 30 new School Choice students would be assigned to different district schools with 16 at the elementary level, 10 at the middle school and four at the high school. The specific assignments would allow four new seats in grade three and four new seats in grade four at Swallow Union School. The class size average in grade three would go from 18 to 19 and for grade gour from 19.5 to 20.5.

The report also recommends eight new School Choice students for Florence Roche School. There would be four new seats in grade three and four new seats in grade four. The class size average at grade three would go from 18 to 19 and for grade four from 19 to 20.

At the Middle School, the report recommends 10 new School Choice students. They would be assigned in the following manner: two seats at grade five, three seats at grade six, three seats at grade seven and two seats at grade eight. According to Myerson's report the average class size would not change. It is also recommended that four new School Choice students should be enrolled at the ninth grade at the high school.

Myerson's report noted the benefits of expanding School Choice enrollments in the School District. The report indicated that with the addition of 30 new School Choice students, the district would receive approximately $150,000 in new revenue which would be needed revenue as the state phases out Charter School reimbursements. Myerson also noted that class sizes would remain educationally sound.

During discussion of the report, School Committee member Jim Frey asked if there was any demand out there for students to come to Groton-Dunstable. Superintendent Anthony Bent noted that the district keeps a list of requests for School Choice and such list indicates that there would be more interest than available spaces.

Superintendent Bent also indicated that the School District would be allowed to accept out-of-state, tuition-type students to augment School Choice enrollments. Bent said with southern New Hampshire communities nearby, some students may be interested in coming to Groton-Dunstable. He said he has never undertaken such an effort and wouldn't know the appropriate way to market the school in that area. Committee member Jim Frey noted there could be opportunities there and Dunstable member Luis DeLoureiro said there could be big opportunity in the Nashua area. He said he would be willing to research this effort.

Superintendent Bent noted that in considering new School Choice students and any out-of-state tuition students, he District would be careful not to incur "incremental" costs. He said that students would not be accepted into grades which would increase class size and result in creating another class.

At the end of the discussion, School Committee member John Giger suggested that the School Committee proceed with this effort as it appears to be a solid plan and with no financial risk involved. School Committee members made no decision on what action to take and the Committee is expected to take the issue up again at their April 24 meeting.

Groton Herald

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