While enrollment in the city's public schools has been declining for a decade, enrollment in charter schools continues to rise, according to US Census Bureau figures and conversations with school and city officials.
Enrollment in all Somerville Schools fell more than 1,400 students from 2000 to 2008, according to data from the 2000 Census and from the National Center for Education Statistics. And enrollment in Somerville Public Schools has declined on average almost 10 percent from 2004 to now, said Gretchen Kinder, a spokeswoman for the district. School and city officials have attributed the decline in enrollment to several circumstances.
Superintendent Tony Pierantozzi recently stated that there are fewer families living in the city than a decade ago. And indeed, 2010 US Census Bureau figures show that Somerville’s population decreased 2 percent over the last 10 years from 77,478 to 75,754.
At the same time, Pierantozzi and city spokesman Michael Meehan have both speculated that more 21 to 35 year olds, (who account for40 percent of the population), have moved into the area but are marrying later and having fewer children. And when they do, data shows they tend to move to cities with cheaper housing, like those outside Greater Boston.
Meehan noted that 10 years ago, students were children of the Baby Boom Generation. But now, students are children of Generation X, a much smaller generation that had fewer children.
What's clear is that parents who stay in the city are enrolling their children in charter schools more and more. Pierantozzi has said that charter schools like Prospect Hill Academy have recruited parents more aggressively, and now they enroll hundreds of Somerville children.
Indeed, Prospect Hill Academy's Head of School Jed Lippard told me that enrollment has "gone way up" since the the academy added a third campus and a second building for the upper school. The academy enrolls a total of 1120 students, 430 of whom live in Somerville.
In response, Pierantozzi and his staff plan to mail pamphlets to families whose children attend the academy to encourage them to learn about Somerville Public Schools.
In the meantime, Kinder said that the district expects enrollment to continue to decline approximately 25 students per year for the next three or four years. But she said enrollment in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes has already increased by 7 percent.
“As those students enter our schools and age through grade by grade, they will impact the numbers... if everything else stays the same,” she said.
As enrollment has declined, the district has lowered the number of students per class, which has created empty seats in classrooms and smaller grade sizes. The district has also opted not to replace all of the teachers and teacher's assistants who have left and has reduced the administrative staff, said Pierantozzi.
During the 1980s, former Mayor Gene Brune closed school buildings because there weren’t enough students to sustain them, Meehan said. The current School Committee has just begun to discuss closing school buildings and consolidating schools, as well as possibly building a middle school, after the superintendent broached those ideas in a recent committee meeting.