Haverhill school officials are concerned that, at least in the near future, enrollment projections suggest more students than classroom space available.
School Superintendent Margaret Marotta told the School Committee one solution requires a decision by the end of next month. She backed her conclusion by noting a significant increase in pre-school enrollment, a large middle school population which will begin moving to the high school and an expansion in residential construction permits. The superintendent cited growth since 2018.
“In 18-19, our pre-school, the Moody, had 197 students. Right now, we have 340 students between Moody and the Moody expansion. Next year, we’re expecting about 400 students,” she said.
The report presented figures showing, historically, 20% of new multi-family dwellings included school age children. According to that report, if all of the planned development takes place over the next several years, there will be an increase of 1,300 family units putting a further strain on school resources.
Committee members agreed there is a delicate balance needed in providing necessary housing and not overwhelming public schools, a balance Committee member Gail M. Sullivan said is not always being considered.
“You can’t just say we need housing and you can’t not connect it to schools. We’re already up against it. We need housing, but the way out of poverty is education,” she said.
The report focused heavily on the John G. Whittier School, which is already coping with crowded conditions, not only in the number of students, but also the in the increased number of adult support staff. Some of whom have to perform intervention work in the hallways because of a lack of space.
Marotta explained steps have been taken to help alleviate some of those crowding problems, such as moving one fifth grade class from Whittier School to Pentucket Lake Elementary as well as other classroom shifts. She called them all “less than ideal,” however.
One potential solution, at least in the short term, is the addition of modular classrooms. Committee members agreed due to their temporary nature and cost—$2.5-3 million for enough units to provide six additional classrooms, they are somewhat of a Hobson’s choice. Nonetheless, Committee member Richard J. Rosa pointed out with the completion of the new Dr. Albert B. Consentino School still at least three years off, it may be the only choice.
“Look, I think that we all sort of choked a little bit when we saw that price tag for the modulars, while the modulars may, we may consider them a temporary solution. Temporary is going to be kind of a long time in this case,” he said.
Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. reminded the committee the amount represents capital spending that may only be decided by Mayor James J. Fiorentini. The mayor played somewhat of a devil’s advocate, questioning the validity of the projected growth figures and asking if other, less expensive, options were being considered. He added he would consider all options, however, and would not be making any snap judgements on the matter.
The superintendent responded by telling the committee the lead time on purchasing modular structures would be about a year, meaning some decision will have to be made by the end of March in order to have them in place by the start of the 2024-2025 school year.