How will approved but as yet unbuilt housing affect future school enrollment? What about the increasing use of the state affordable housing law, which seems to have be gaining popularity with local builders?
It’s hard to say — and impossible to say definitively. But officials considering a potential elementary school closing — including the committee currently looking into which school it makes the most sense to close — need to look at these questions.
As Town Planner Betty Brosius pointed out in her recent report to the committee, the vast majority of the schoolchildren who may be expected from approved but as yet unbuilt multi-family housing — 177 of the of the 213 potential students in her report — come from the 306-unit project approved for the Bennett’s Pond property, but long tied up in court as owner Eureka seeks even more units.
When and how that dispute will be resolved cannot easily be predicted. Neither can the decisions that the Eureka ownership will make as to the property’s future, once the court battles are over. And when the legal disputes end, the need for further zoning approvals — and sewer service, out on Route 7 — will complicate the picture. Even with approvals, economic conditions often dictate the pace of construction and sales with a large project.
The school board’s basic plan is to close one of the six elementary schools when kindergarten through fifth grade enrollment falls below 2,000, and save the overhead and staffing costs associated with keeping a sixth building open.
That’s practical, realistic, educationally responsible. That of course makes less sense if elementary enrollment dips briefly below 2,000 but then rises again, putting pressure on the town to reopen a school that’s only been closed a few years. The savings from the years without a sixth school might then be eaten up by the costs of reopening one. That’s among the reasons officials are right to look at land development potential.
No one can look into the future with complete confidence in the accuracy, but it would be shortsighted to rush into a school closing without trying to understand how changing trends in land development may alter school population.