LTE: School Committee should not retain control of the Coffin School

To the editor:

I am writing in regard to the School Committee’s insistence on retaining control of the Coffin School. Previous School Committees analyzed data in their decision-making; current enrollment, projections of future enrollment, and the capacity of our school buildings should be the basis for deciding whether additional schools will be needed in the future.

In the 1990s, the Marblehead School Committee formed a Master Plan Committee (composed of community members and two Committee members) to identify the most educationally sound and financially responsible plan to address Marblehead’s aging school buildings. The plan adopted by the School Committee called for four phases of construction: 1) Build a new high school, 2) Renovate the old high school into a middle school, 3) Renovate the middle school into a school for 700 students, and 4) address the K-3 schools.

At each phase in the Master Plan, Marblehead partnered with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, maximizing state aid to reduce the cost to Marblehead taxpayers. Part of the process involved justifying the size of the proposed school based on enrollment projections submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which uses a target class size of 25 students for school design.

The following chart shows when each school opened, the enrollment capacity it was built to accommodate, along with the actual enrollment for this current school year and the excess capacity (space) at each school. There is room for more than 547 additional students in our existing schools.

Marblehead Public Schools
Year OpenedSchoolGradesCapacitySchool Year 2023-2024 EnrollmentExcess Capacity
2002Marblehead High School9-121000874126
2004Marblehead Veterans Middle School7, 853044387
2011Village School4-6700537163
2013Glover SchoolK-3425294131
2021Lucretia & Joseph Brown SchoolK-345041040
547

Since 2013-14, enrollment has steadily declined. According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), in 2013-14, there were 3,293 students enrolled in Pre-K through 12th grade and in 2023-24, there are 2,617 students in Pre-K through 12th grade. There are currently 676 fewer students than there were in 2013-2014. See the DESE website at: https://www.doe.mass.edu/infoservices/reports/enroll/

The fiscal year 2025 MPS Preliminary Budget (See MPS website) includes enrollment projections over the next 10 years that predict a decline, then a slight increase in enrollment. If the projections are accurate, and in 10 years there are approximately 100 more students enrolled than are currently enrolled, that will still be 576 fewer students than were enrolled in 2013-14.

While there are concerns that zoning changes may result in the construction of more family housing, the data shows that our current schools can accommodate more than 500 additional students.

Bottom line: There is excess capacity in our schools.

Turning the Coffin School and the Eveleth School over to the town is fiscally responsible and this action will fulfill the commitments made to the town by previous School Committees, building committees, and ballot initiative committees. Failure to keep the promises made to turn over the old school properties to the town after new schools were built costs taxpayers money and breaks the public’s trust in the School Committee.

Sincerely,

Patricia Blackmer

School Committee 2005-2011, Facilities Master Plan Committee and Glover School Building Committee