At the December 7 School Committee Meeting there was a discussion of Enrollment Projections, the NHS Student Advisory Report, the Superintendent's FY23 School Operating Budget Request, and an Update on Health & Safety.
Enrollment Projections for FY 23-37
Jerome McKibben of McKibben Demographic Research presented the current enrollment projections for FY23-37 to the School Committee via zoom. He projects that enrollment will return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the 15 year projection period, although more gradually than previously anticipated.
COVID-19 has made forecasting enrollment very challenging.
Nationwide, schools had a significant reduction in enrollment during the 20/21 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Needham lost 221 students, primarily at the elementary level. The largest losses occurred in Preschool and Kindergarten, where parents opted to keep children home, send students to private school, or homeschool. High School enrollment remained relatively stable and consistent with prior year expectations.
It was expected that 80% of those students would return to school this year, however nationally only about 50% of these students have returned to school. In Needham, about 45% of the students who demitted last year for COVID-related reasons have returned.
Other factors that are affecting the downturn in school enrollment:
There has been a slowdown in home sales. The elderly are not selling their homes. There are 30% fewer homes on the market. The higher prices of homes tend to bring families with older children, not younger children.
Fewer students are returning to public school than expected and about 20 percent of Needham students attend private schools.
The under 5y population is about 100 students less than projected.
The newer housing developments do not have as many children as projected. The higher rent prices make the units harder for families to afford. This is being seen in the housing market too.
The number of births also dropped during the pandemic.
The projection trend for elementary schools is that enrollment will stay level rather than decline. The high school enrollment numbers are still projected to increase, but more slowly than before. Eliot School has some crowding, but projections do not have its numbers increasing significantly. Sunita Williams is also about at capacity. Dr Gutekanst thinks these capacity issues can be helped by: High Rock becoming an elementary school, Mitchell being rebuilt as a 3 or 4 section school, providing space for preschool, and shifting the usage of some spaces at Eliot to help crowding issues.
Michael Greis commented that he does not see major changes happening to the numbers in our population of students across the schools. A little shift in one direction or the other is not going to have a major impact on the school populations or space requirements needed at the schools.
Andrea Longo-Carter noted that there will be a short-term capacity issue because their enrollment is projected to increase slightly (30 students), and there should be planning for this increase.
School Committee & Superintendent Comments
School committee members got to visit with some 9th graders at the end of one of their interdisciplinary units and were quite impressed with the work that students had done. They hope to see other presentations in the future.
Dr. Gutekanst mentioned the recent Michigan school shooting tragedy and highlighted that our schools do practice age appropriate active shooter drills. The Sandy Hook anniversary is also coming up. Families are encouraged to reach out to their schools with any questions or concerns regarding student safety.
The Needham Girls Volleyball team was invited to attend the school committee meeting. They placed first in the MA State championship for the second year in a row. They also received a sportsmanship award. Dr. Gutekanst and the School Committee were very proud of the students for receiving this award.
NHS Student Advisory Report:
Members of the NHS Student Advisory to the School Committee (SASC) presented their latest update about NHS activities, issues, and student concerns.
Highlights of some previous successful projects and upcoming class activities:
9th Grade: T shirt design contest, Bake Sale
10th Grade: Bake Sale, Class Merchandise, Chipotle and Bertucci’s Nights, Halloween Homeroom Dress Up Contest, upcoming Cradles to Crayons Drive
11th Grade: Clothing Drive to give to Katie’s Closet Charity, Candy Grams, Bake Sale, Junior Harbor Cruise, Field Day
12th Grade: Harbor Cruise, BBQ, Prom (Copley Place in Boston), class sweatshirts for sale
Homecoming on October 22nd had about 500 students attending – the largest Homecoming Dance ever
Bonfire on November 23rd was also well attended. Captains and students of various fall teams were invited to attend since there was no pep rally. NHS Jazz Band, Cheer, and other groups also performed. Students expressed their gratitude to Needham Police & Fire who helped make this a safe event.
Quote Project: Student council members selected quotes about NHS experiences and values and artwork is being designed to be displayed with the quotes around the school.
Student Comments on Masking:
Many NHS Students want masks to be optional rather than mandated.
The mask breaks have helped students to adjust to the long days and being back in the building full time. Students are enjoying the mask breaks especially during their 90 minute long block classes. It is a nice time to connect with a friend, and helps some kids to refocus their energy on school and learning. Students suggest that those breaks continue even if masks do not.
Some expressed concerns that peer pressure will cause students to unmask even if they don’t want to. Will students treat those who want to wear a mask the same as those who do not?
Most students wear their masks properly, but some do not. The mask drops below the nose.
The students spoke about their concerns that teachers are not recognizing that students have a lot of stress and pressure. There was not a lot of time to readjust to the “normal” school year, and students requested that teachers have a little more empathy for what students are experiencing. While many students have settled into the school year at this point, there are others who are overwhelmed and struggling. Students hope that teachers will not pile on so much work as if each class exists in its own vacuum. Students are staying up way too late trying to get work done and this affects their mental health and physical well-being.
Superintendent's FY23 School Operating Budget Request
Dr. Gutekanst presented his FY23 School Operating Budget request to the School Committee. He noted that it is a challenging time to develop a budget plan due to concerns regarding health and safety, increased needs of students, and the need for school building renovations. The budget is in-line with the Portrait of a Needham Graduate strategic priorities.
The proposed FY23 budget will benefit students by:
Ensuring students are learning in classrooms with a talented, diverse faculty and staff
Providing targeted support for ELL students and students requiring math and literacy support
Assuring that all students have access to learning and co-curricular activities
Providing materials, technology tools, and counseling resources for students
Proposed Increases — $3,597,165
Contractual salary increases: $1,858,890
Level service : $704,587
Program Improvements: $1,126,062
Staff Increases — 24.82 FTE
Teachers: 14.93 FTE
Administration: .60 FTE
Teacher Assistants: 6.69 FTE
Support Staff: 2.60 FTE
The total requested budget is about a 4.3% increase from last year. Some of this increase is necessary to continue to provide services that were funded by other federal sources during the pandemic.
Detailed slides that address needs at the elementary, middle, and high school level can be found in the school committee packet. Other issues to consider are enrollment, special education, and out of district placement costs.
School committee members asked questions about the budget relating to accelerated math at the middle school level, World languages and Fine & Performing arts at the elementary level, and Athletic and Fine & Performing Arts fees.
Health and Safety Update
Dr. Gutekanst presented an update on the COVID-19 related discussion at the December 6 meeting of the Needham Joint Health and Safety Committee. Detailed slides from that meeting can be found here.
COVID-19 Numbers as of 12/1: 2.03% positive test rate in Needham, average of 4.9 cases per day in November.
Hospitalization rate among children remains low in MA and nationwide
In November, a total of 307 students were identified as close contacts in school and only 1 contact became positive.
Breakthrough cases: only 1.6% of vaccinated people in MA have had a breakthrough case of COVID-19
Grades K-6: 69 percent of students have received one dose of the vaccine so far.
Grades 7-12: 93 percent of students are vaccinated
The Joint Health and Safety Committee continues to evaluate when masking may become optional based on clinical data, state regulations, and what the committee feels is best for the students and families. Dr. Gutekanst is not sure if DESE's target date of optional masking on January 15th will be postponed in light of new variants and rising cases in MA. He did apply for a waiver for Pollard and the High School to be mask friendly, but there will be no change to the masking policy yet. Dr. Gutekanst encouraged families to look at the NPS COVID-19 dashboard if they are interested in the daily updates of COVID data in schools.
The next School Committee meeting is December 21 at 6:30pm.