MANCHESTER — City school enrollment continued its downward trend this year, with about 1% fewer students in city schools than last year, according to preliminary enrollment numbers released by the district.
This year’s decline of 166 students is smaller than previous years, both in actual numbers and percentage-wise. Over the last four years, Manchester schools have lost nearly 5% of their enrollment, about 700 students.
“Our (Manchester) population is aging and as a country, people are having fewer children. This results in a shrinking school-aged population,” said school Superintendent John Goldhardt in an email to the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Goldhardt said the school-aged population is dropping across the state, and the Manchester school population is also affected by private schools, charter schools and home schools.
Goldhardt said the decline brings both advantages and challenges. Fewer students mean that leaders can focus more on curriculum. Children get more personalized attention, and officials can be innovative in use of space and time.
But at the high school level, fewer students can mean fewer electives because of board requirements that each class have a minimum of 15 students, he said.
This year’s numbers show a substantial drop of more than 300 in the elementary schools and an enrollment increase in middle schools. Goldhardt noted that fifth-grade classes in the three West Side elementary schools moved to the Parkside Middle School this year.
Parkside’s student population is up by 215 students. Two of the three West Side elementary schools saw their population drop by nearly 100. Northwest Elementary School, one of the most crowded in the city, has 133 fewer students.
Goldhardt said fewer students don’t easily translate into lower spending. Tallies of special education and English language learners have grown, which adds costs to the district. Maintenance and operation costs don’t go down with student population, and many Manchester school buildings are old and less efficient when it comes to energy. And he said the district has to pay for services mandated by the state and federal government.
“For example, while I understand the compassion and reasoning behind the state mandate for schools to provide free feminine hygiene products, the dispensers and products will cost this district approximately $150,000,” he said.
The New Hampshire Department of Education does not have statewide data available for the 2019-20 school year.
But for the latest two years that data are available for, the overall statewide population of public school students declined. In each year, the decline was less than 1%.
As of October 2018, 177,369 students were in New Hampshire public schools.