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Enrollment blues

How low can you go?

That’s an answer the Mohawk Trail Regional School District has to determine with regards to its enrollment — and quickly.

Declining enrollment at both the elementary school level and the middle/high school have left the district with plenty of space in school buildings ... in fact, too much space. With just 518 students enrolled in the various district schools, only one-third of classroom capacity is filled.

While smaller enrollment can have certain advantages, such as smaller classroom sizes and allowing for more individualized attention, the flip side involves the costs associated with having a school up and running. As Mohawk Chairman Robert Aeschback said this week, “How is it cost-effective for us to maintain four elementary schools when we could fit all our elementary students into Buckland Shelburne Elementary?

“Our communities don’t have open checkbooks. We can’t spend unlimitedly.”

What the district and the communities it serves have to decide how small is too small. That won’t be easy, especially when it comes to the various elementary schools, where costs come up against the emotions attached to community schools. In several of Mohawk district schools, it’s not just a question of parents wanting to have their children go to school in their home town. The elementary schools also serve as a focal point for the community, regardless of whether you have a student there or not.

Closing a school can have ramifications that can reverberate through a town.

That said, all answers come back to money.

As much as one wants to be able to say that funding is no object when it comes to educating our children, we know differently. And so it becomes a question of how to manage those financial resources, to best maximize what comes from that money. As Aeschback said, “somehow we’ve got to come up with an idea, so these communities can remain solvent and we can still have quality education.”

That idea may be harder to find than realized.

We think Mohawk is realizing is that School Choice, for instance, can only go so far in bringing new students and dollars to the district. And unless communities are going to somehow attract more families to move to their respective towns, it looks like some sort of school consolidation has to be firmly on the table.

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