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Frontier district prepping for enrollment drop

SOUTH DEERFIELD — In the next decade, there is projected to be 300 fewer students enrolled in the Frontier Regional School and its four feeder schools — a finding that has spurred school leaders to take a serious look at school and municipal space needs in southern Franklin County.

Superintendent Martha Barrett said, “We’ve been spending a lot of time this fall looking at data and trends,” Barrett said. “It’s hard to predict exactly if we’ll follow these trends, but it’s important to be knowledgeable to make plans.”

Given declining enrollment, Barrett said, the school leaders will look at the space needs of all four towns and ways in which the four towns could share or use school space differently to accommodate municipal and educational needs. For instance, the towns could explore moving the regional South County Senior Center to a wing in an under-utilized elementary school, Barrett suggested.

“It’s not productive year after year to be battling for the same dollars,” Barrett said.

Since fall, the Long Range Planning Subcommittee, a volunteer committee made up of School Committee members, selectmen and Finance Committee members, has been discussing ways to address the Frontier system’s long-term sustainability. Part of the subcommittee’s focus was to examine regionalizing the Frontier Regional and Union 38 school districts to either a K-6 or K-12 system — a proposal that has been controversial in the past. Barrett said this week she supported regionalizing Frontier, Deerfield, Conway, Sunderland and Whately schools, which now all have independent school committees sharing a central office staff.

In January, the subcommittee — chaired by Conway Finance Committee member Andrea Llamas — met with state Rep. Stephen Kulik in another joint meeting with the four towns’ selectmen, town finance boards and school leaders.

At that meeting, Kulik recommended the subcommittee come up with a scope of work for potential consultants to do an analysis of municipal buildings and future school needs. Kulik, meanwhile, would investigate whether he could secure any state funds to hire a consultant. Any analysis could be used as a blueprint for other school districts experiencing the same issues, according to Llamas.

According to a recent demographic projection, Frontier Regional School can expect to have 140 fewer students over the next decade.

For the individual elementary schools, Sunderland is projected to have a slight increase of 11 students over the next 10 years; Whately can expect a stagnant enrollment; Conway is expected to decrease by 41 students and Deerfield would shrink by 108 students.

Declining enrollment is expected to have an impact as soon as the 2017.

Over the next three years in the Frontier system, the kindergarten through sixth-grade segment is expected to decrease by 45 students, grades 7 to 9 would increase by nine students and grades 9 to 12 would decrease by 43 students.

The trend is not new. Since 2003, Frontier and the four elementary schools are down about 317 students.

The projections could change, however, if the economy and real estate situation improves in the region, bringing in new families.

The Frontier District is not alone. Throughout New England, school districts are anticipating declining enrollments as a result of fewer births and new families moving into districts, the report said.

The projected decline of 140 students 10 years from now is for the entire K - 12 population (and 105 for pre-K through 12) of Conway, Deerfield, Sunderland, and Whately, NOT for Frontier Regional School itself. For the record, here are the correct numbers from the New England School Development Council (NESDEC) for each individual school in the Frontier Regional School/Union 38 system: Conway: a projected decrease of 30 in-town students in grades PK - 6 attending Conway Grammar School 10 years from now Deerfield: a projected decrease of 14 in-district students in grades PK - 6 attending Deerfield Elementary 10 years from now Sunderland: a projected increase of 9 in-district students in grades PK - 6 attending Sunderland Elementary 10 years from now Whately: a projected decrease of 5 in-district students in grades PK - 6 attending Whately 10 years from now FRS: a projected decrease of 65 in-district students in grades 7 - 12 (from all 4 towns, combined) attending FRS 10 years from now. This gives a net decrease of 105 students for all 5 schools. The errors probably arise from the overly complicated way in which NESDEC reported the data, reporting data for PK-12 for each town and for the Frontier District as a whole, even though Frontier is for grades 7 - 12 rather than PK-12 and the town elementary schools are for grades PK - 6 (rather than PK - 12).

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