Officials: Enrollment spike happening ‘incredibly fast’

Nov 18, 2020 by

Published November 18, 2020

By DAN TOMASELLO

LYNNFIELD — A handful of parents attended a question-and-answer session about the $17 million elementary schools’ expansion project that was held on a Zoom teleconference on Nov. 12.

Town Administrator Rob Dolan said residents will be voting on the elementary schools’ expansion project during a Special Town Meeting on Saturday, Nov. 21, beginning at 1:30 p.m. at Lynnfield High School’s Pioneer Stadium.

“The biggest issue we are facing outside of COVID as a community is the increase of young school age children in Lynnfield,” said Dolan. “A lot of great communities have been going through this the last several years. It’s the circle of life where people have decided to downsize and families in droves are coming to Lynnfield.”

While Dolan said the school system has had enrollment bubbles in the past, he said the School Building Committee (SBC) and the School Enrollment Capacity and Exploration Committee (SECEC) reviewed data from the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) that determined enrollment at both elementary schools is projected to increase significantly over the next decade.

“The data confirmed that the increasing enrollment is real and is happening at an incredibly fast pace,” said Dolan.

Retired Superintendent Jane Tremblay, who has been working as a consultant on the expansion project, agreed.

“It’s interesting because there are so many school districts where the numbers are actually going down while ours are going up,” said Tremblay. “It’s a testament to the fact that young families are moving here because they want their children to be in an outstanding school system.”

Dolan said the project will need a two-thirds vote in order to pass Town Meeting. If the project passes, voters will be asked to approve a debt exclusion during a Special Town Election on Tuesday, Dec. 8. He said the projected tax increase will cost each household an additional $205 over a 20-year period.

Local mom Kat Gallagher said she is in favor of the expansion project, but she expressed concerns that the town might need to build a new school in the next few years.

Dolan said building permanent additions onto both elementary schools will address the enrollment spike.

“We do not need a new school,” said Dolan. “We have been studying this issue for two years. Some have said we should have done something last year, but we couldn’t because we needed to make sure the facts and the analysis were correct. We wanted to do it right so we could present a reasonable project to the community.”

Dolan also said children living in potential future developments are included in the proposed project.

“If 50 to 60 houses are built on the Sagamore Spring Golf Club, we are prepared for that,” said Dolan. “The zoning in this community and the housing stock in this community support a pretty steady school population. Unlike a lot of communities where there is multi-family housing, we don’t have a lot of that in Lynnfield. It is predominately single-family homes. The apartments at MarketStreet and on Route 1 don’t have a lot of children in them.”

Tremblay echoed Dolan’s viewpoint.

“What the data is telling us is putting the five classroom additions onto both elementary schools is the remedy that we need,” said Tremblay. “We don’t need another big elementary school with 24 classrooms.”

SBC Chairman John Scenna said elementary school enrollment will be increasing from 870 students this year to over 1,000 students in the next few years.

“We are in a period of steep incline,” said Scenna. “The existing schools are at capacity and this is a way to address the increasing enrollment. It retains art and music, and keeps that small neighborhood feel at both campuses.”

Scenna explained there are 42 classrooms at both elementary schools. He said the elementary schools are projected to need 46 classrooms for the 2021-2022 school year, 47 classrooms for the 2022-2023 academic year and 48 classrooms for the 2023-2024 school year.

“We are right at the beginning of the problem,” said Scenna. “If this project passes, we will need a bridge year where we will have to look at something like art-on-a-cart or moving music to the all-purpose room or somewhere else.”

Dolan also noted that Lynnfield Middle School and Lynnfield High School have the space to accommodate increasing elementary school enrollment.

Gallagher said she and her husband will be supporting the project.

“We are here for the long haul and we are going to support the town’s growth because we want our children to go through the school system,” said Gallagher.

Edgemere Road resident Kimberlee Kossover-Hansen asked if the town is going to provide childcare at the Special Town Meeting.

While Dolan said the ongoing pandemic makes it unlikely that either Lynnfield Recreation or Lynnfield Community Schools will be able to provide childcare, he said, “That could change.” He said parents can bring their children to Town Meeting.

Tremblay encouraged parents to call their friends and neighbors in order to convince them to come to the Special Town Meeting.

“At the end of the day, Lynnfield gets to decide what it wants to do,” said Tremblay. “But the only way the project goes through is if people talk to their friends and encourage people to come to Town Meeting on Nov. 21.”

If the project does not pass and the School Department undertakes a number of initiatives in order to try and accommodate increasing enrollment, Dolan said both elementary schools “still don’t have enough room for these kids.”

Dolan noted that people are “burnt out” from a difficult year and have asked him why local officials are moving the project forward now.

“The reason why we need to do this now is we need to get ahead of the issue because it is never going to be cheaper than it is today,” said Dolan.

School Committee Vice Chairman Jamie Hayman concurred with Dolan’s sentiment.

“The reality is if we don’t do this and the projections play out as they have, we are going to be looking at an average class size of 25 kids,” said Hayman. “That’s not a threat. That is basic math. Even if we found a new place for the preschool and moved art and music to a cart, which we don’t want to do, we are still looking at classes that are above the School Committee’s recommended class sizes. This is an absolute must. The override amounts to 60 cents a day. That is pretty reasonable.”

Scenna noted there is a lot of information about the building project on the School Department’s website, including a Google form that allows people to submit questions to the SBC.

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