MOULTONBOROUGH — Both the School Board and the Advisory Budget Committee have expressed growing concern about the declining enrollment in the local school district, where the number of students has dwindled since 2005 from 710 to 521, a drop of 27-percent, and is projected to shrink by another 100 during the next five years.
When the School Board met earlier this month the declining numbers were the touchstone of the strategic planning process to begin in March. School Superintendent Susan Noyes said yesterday that numbers have been falling for "quite a while" and explained that so far the administration and school board have chosen to address the implications year-by-year. For example, some elective courses at the Academy (high school) are now offered every other year in order to ensure optimal class sizes. A course incorporating "STEM" (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) has been dropped from the curriculum. And the 2015-2016 budget includes a decrease of $277,855 in salary and associated costs representing a reduction in staff in response to falling enrollment.
This year, Noyes said, the board decided to prepare a strategic plan to address what she has called the '''new normal". She stressed that the school is a significant element of the community and the purpose of the planning process is to develop creative options for ensuring a sound educational program in light of the anticipated smaller enrollment.
The process will proceed in two stages, Noyes explained. First, data and projections will be compiled and most important the administration and the board will reach out to all sections of the community — parents, residents, businesses and other interests — for their perspectives and suggestions. After ordering the priorities, she said, "we'll see how to make things happen."
Meanwhile, the Advisory Budget Committee, in its report on the School District budget, expressed its concern that "the declining enrollment has now reached a 'tipping' point." The committee voiced its support for the strategic planning process. "it is critical that the community as a whole come together to support the process of addressing strategies that will allow Moultonborough to continue to provide excellent educational opportunities for all children in a cost effective and challenging environment," the committee wrote.
While the committee endorsed the steps taken by the school board, it voiced disappointment that the "STEM" component was stripped from the curriculum. Likewise, the committee noted that the Region 9 Lakes Region Technology Center in Wolfeboro does not draw more students from Moultonborough and lamented a reduction in the appropriation for vocational education while applauding the effort at Moultonborough Academy to encourage more students to enroll in vocational programs.
In conclusion, the committee repeated that "the continued enrollment decline and changing demographics will in the near term have a serious impact on Moultonborough's ability to continue (under its present mode of operation) to provide excellent educational opportunities for all children in a cost effective and challenging environment." Like the School Board, the Advisory Budget Committee considers "this a town-wide issue" and called "long term contingency plans" to address it.
Writing on Moultonborough Speaks, Selectman Paul Punturieri stressed that the strategic plan must account for the cost of schooling. "The 'truth' as you have read here, continues to be that we are paying $14M plus to educate 500 or so students," he noted. "We all pay for this educational experience and the large majority of that money is paid with tax dollars of those that can't vote on how it is spent nor utilize the school system.," he continued. "Much of the rest is paid by folks that are average middle class or fixed income retirees who really are the majority of the full time residents of our town."
Punturieri applauded the school for undertaking a strategic planning process, but remarked "while we can certainly afford to pay more than most, that should not be part of the equation."
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