Boston High Schools Experiencing Declining Enrollment

Due to an increase in charter schools and a decrease in the teen population nation wide, Boston public high schools’ enrollment numbers are at an all-time low. 3,000 empty seats leave the possibility of school closures up for debate, reports James Vaznis from the Boston Globe.

Boston has 33 high schools, almost half of which are operating below 90 percent capacity. Some schools are even operating at half capacity, including Another Course to College in Brighton and the English High School in Jamaica Plain. Even Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester is struggling to get kids in seats after their $50 million renovation.

Burke and English are both able to facilitate 1,200 students each, but enrollment remains at fewer then 600. Government watchdogs and School Committee are worried about the wasted funds.

“It’s a misuse of public funds to have empty seats,” said Meg Campbell, a School Committee member who also runs the Codman Academy Charter School. “Every dime we are spending on a classroom not being fully used is a dime we are not spending on programs that benefit students. We don’t have unlimited dollars.”

According to the School Department, maintaining the empty seats will cost $8.4 million this year. Broken down, that equals $2,857 per empty seat.

The School Department still plans to spend millions to add more seats at several high schools and shows no plan to close or consolidate schools. They defend the expansion by insisting the seats are needed for dropouts who wish to re-enroll.

While high schools are struggling to fill seats, preschools and elementary schools are struggling to find enough to accommodate incoming classes. They are expecting an additional 1,000 students this fall.

Superintendent Carol R. Johnson has struggled to address the declining enrollment. She has said that funds will not be used to expand schools, but instead used to improve existing high schools.

In 2008, Johnson canceled plans to close down three high schools after student and parent protests. Instead, she kept one open and merged the others.

In 2010, she shut down two high schools at the Hyde Park complex and consolidated 6 other high schools into three, although she reopened Hyde Park a year later.

Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a government watchdog funded by businesses and nonprofits, said he supports expanding high-performing high schools, but other schools must close. “The issue of reducing excess capacity — consolidating or closing schools — is a tough process,” Tyler said, “but they can’t continue to shy away from that.”