By Ann Needle
Nashoba Regional High School is overcrowded, and the newly renovated Center School has reached capacity according to the district’s numbers. This raises the question of just how many students the Nashoba Regional district can expect to educate over the next few decades.
In trying to answer this question, the Nashoba School Committee recently heard from a local expert on demographic trends in the area.
The numbers don’t tell the full story, according to the New England School Development Council’s Don Kennedy. The non-profit planning and development group’s Kennedy, a retired school superintendent and 15-year veteran of the NESDEC, concluded, “In the next 4 to 5 years, you’re going to see enrollments that are surprising.” One reason is that the trend shows that the population in the Nashoba district area has been getting older.
Since 2000, senior citizens have made up the largest percentage of the population in New England, second only to Florida, Kennedy reported. “There are many senior citizens who are staying here, and retiring here – aging in place,” he said, adding that this makes it less likely that birth rates will rise in New England over the next several years.
Kennedy noted that federal projections show Massachusetts can expect about a 5% decrease in its overall school population between 2010 and 2021, with the birth rate also declining. The trends in Nashoba’s towns reflect this decline.
“The statistics are rather similar in all three towns,” he observed.
In Stow, the median age of residents in 1990 was 35.8 years, rising to 43.5 by 2010, Kennedy reported. In Bolton that median was 36.8 in 1990, and 42.8 by 2010. A potential reason Kennedy cited for the aging trend here and throughout the state is that near-retirees may have waited through the 2008 recession to put their houses on the market, stalling any planned moves.
Until 2009, Kennedy said Stow averaged about 84 single-family home sales each year. In 2009, home sales dropped to 50, but spiked to 94 in 2013.
Question the Trend
Based on the area’s trend of more older people and fewer births, the NESDEC numbers show less students filling future school seats throughout the district. The predictions are that the number of students in all Nashoba’s schools will total 2,982 by 2019, down from 3,475 in 2009. The birth rate in the three towns also has declined steadily.
But Kennedy stressed that, thanks to the real estate market, these numbers may be misleading.
For instance, NRHS currently has 1,063 students. However, back in 2013 the NESDEC projected the high school would have just over 1,003 students. And, the district’s elementary schools gained almost 60 more students than anticipated this school year, Kennedy said. In Stow, 130 students enrolled in kindergarten this year, vs. about 100 births in town 6 years ago. He remarked, “It was the first year the district really broke out of the recession.”
“Real estate in MetroWest is going gangbusters,” said Kennedy, fueled by a strong high-tech and financial services industry in the area. Kennedy also pointed to the “success stories” about schools in the area, noting, “Every time you get good stories about test scores, realtors watch that. People read it.”
When it revises its projections, Kennedy noted that the NESDEC will likely give more weight to the booming real estate market’s influence on student numbers, paying careful attention to factors such as where developers are building, “Because they often have reasons for building in an area.”