There are about 1,800 students enrolled at Andover High School, and that enrollment was projected to grow to 1,900 in the coming years. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, throwing the assumptions used to make enrollment projections out of whack: Enrollment at public schools in Massachusetts is down 4 percent since the fall of 2019, but it’s still too soon to tell if that’s a momentary glitch or the “new normal.”
“Our hypothesis is that, certainly, the pandemic exacerbated the decline’’ in enrollment, Mary Bourque, of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents told the Boston Globe for an article about declining school enrollments.
And that could be the biggest question facing the Andover High School Building Committee, which started meeting this summer and is scheduled for a site walk of the building it is tasked with renovating or replacing at 8 a.m. Monday morning: Will current projections hold up, and, if not, how many students should a new school accommodate?
At its second meeting on July 28, Chair Mark Johnson said one of the decisions the committee will have to make is whether to commission a new demographic study to update the most recent one, which was completed in 2017.
“When I’ve tried to use pre-COVID data at public meetings, at town meetings, it’s been challenged as pre-COVID data,” Town Manager Andrew Flanagan, who is a member of the committee, said. “That said, if we went out now and did a [demographic] study right now it could be skewed because it’s immediately – not even totally – post-COVID yet, but it’s the closest we’ve been to returning to normal. We have to be prepared to answer is the pre-COVID reality still a reality or has it changed?”
The Globe found 3/4s of the state’s public school systems saw enrollment declines in recent years, with the affluent, suburban communities that saw big housing price increases during the pandemic recording some of the biggest declines. In Andover, the COVID enrollment decline was under 2 percent and the state average.
The current school was built for 1,400 students in 1956, and a 1995 renovation expanded capacity to 1,600. Talks to replace the school have been ongoing since 2008, but the Massachusetts School Building Authority has rejected eight applications from the town for funding. The most recent application was filed in 2020. In May, town meeting approved $1.5 million for infrastructure repairs at the high school.
The committee discussed talking to the demographer that completed the 2017 study to get a cost estimate for updating the 2017 study, but took no action at the July 28 meeting.