Low Enrollment in Chatham Leading to Higher Costs for Harwich

Chatham Elementary School

HARWICH – Monomoy Regional School District Superintendent Dr. Scott Carpenter recently gave an update to the Harwich Select Board on the low enrollment in Chatham Elementary School.

The issue is resulting in Harwich taxpayers paying for over 70 percent of the operation.

The presentation Carpenter gave to board members was also recently presented to Chatham’s board. 

Carpenter said that the steady decline in enrollment is the result of equally steady decline in affordable housing for young families on Cape Cod whose children would become students of the schools.

“Everything from affordable housing to what it costs to live on the Cape; raising a family, childcare options. Our community is not only a retirement destination, but there’s an increasing AirBnB industry where houses that young families might be able to afford in our communities are oftentimes snapped up and turned into AirBnB properties,” said Carpenter. 

He said that though all regions across the Cape are experiencing at least some rate of enrollment decline, the rate is greater in Chatham relative to Harwich, its regional school partner.

The declining enrollment, said Carpenter, leads to not only a lacking social environment for the students and higher costs, but also more challenges for teachers as their own collaborative network shrinks.

As per the regional agreement, a 3-year rolling average of enrollment determines the split in costs between the two towns.

However, without intervention, Carpenter said that the cost gap will continue to grow between what the two towns pay.

He said that in Fiscal Year 2012, Harwich taxpayers were paying 72 percent of the bill for Chatham Elementary School. 

In FY21, the cost will move closer to 75 percent. 

Projecting the declines into the future, Carpenter said Harwich will likely be paying 79 percent of the bill in FY25 and 87 percent  in FY33.

Carpenter said that it is not something that the school committee and the superintendent role can solve on their own.

“We have a funding mechanism that is within the regional agreement, and that funding agreement would need to get amended over the long-haul. It would involve support of the selectmen in both towns and approval at Town Meeting in both towns to amend that,” said Carpenter to selectmen.

Currently, Carpenter said that he is first working to bring attention to the issue, though he did propose several possible solutions.

The first, and Carpenter’s preferred option, would be that the regional agreement is amended to allow towns to run and pay for their own elementary school. 

In FY21, this solution would lead to a $572,000 savings for Harwich.

Other options included taking more Harwich students and simply putting them in Chatham elementary, solving per-pupil discrepancy and boosting enrollment.  

Carpenter said that this solution “solves it on paper”, equalizing per-pupil cost in Chatham, but done so by emptying classrooms in Harwich which still is at the expense of Harwich taxpayers.

The superintendent also discussed changing the regional agreement to include another town, strengthening enrollment for both towns. 

The board discussed if there was a state mechanism for reorganizing the regional system, as many towns across the Cape are also experiencing a decline of young families.

“It doesn’t seem like the state ever anticipated a pan-regional problem where everybody is experiencing enrollment declines,” said board member Don Howell. 

Tina Games, Chair of the Monomoy School Committee, said that it’s a problem that needs both sides to work together to find the best solution.

“Everyone is listening. I can assure you that Chatham, based on my observations and conversations that they do understand the equity piece, and at the same time are looking for what might be that long-term solution. We just have to kind of come together on this.”

About Grady Culhane

Grady Culhane is a Cape Cod native currently living in Eastham. He studied media communications at Cape Cod Community College and joined the CapeCod.com News Center in 2019.

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