SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. — A 63-page report released by the K-8 Housing Study Group last week shows that while it will be possible for the town to close a school as early as 2015, it may be better to wait to avoid negatively impacting education.
The town has had four K-8 schools since 2004, when town meeting approved what later became Woodward Elementary School. However, recent demographic projections suggest that the Southborough's student population may be on the decline. The K-8 Housing Study Group began meeting this past fall to see if it would be feasible to save taxpayer money by closing one of the schools.
The town will be able to physically fit all of its K-8 students in three schools in the 2015-2016 school year at the earliest, according to the report. Such a change, however, would cause "significant educational impacts" due to larger class sizes. The report states that it would take until the 2017-2018 school year for the town to fit its students into three schools with little to no negative impact.
As for cost savings, the report states that the town would save $140,000-300,000 per year, depending on whether the closed school is taken over by the town or left unoccupied.
"It actually isn't that simple," said Neary Elementary School Principal Linda Murdock, who also chairs the K-8 Housing Study Group.
Murdock added that the town's expected savings could vary based in which school is closed. Since Woodward was built with Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) funds, if it closed the town would lost out on future payments and be forced to reimburse past payments. All told, the report said, this would cost the town more than $10 million.
While Neary was proposed as the more realistic option, the town would still face between $2 million and $2.5 million in additional costs if the school was closed and later re-opened—a possibility if the number of Southborough school children increases unexpectedly in the future.
Murdock said that, according to NESDEC estimates, "one percent per year is a reasonable amount to be off by" when predicting enrollments. On top of that, these predictions do not take into account new housing developments or a future housing market recovery, Murdock said.
"There’s pent-up demand for [housing] in Southborough," committee member Paul Desmond said.
The K-8 School Committee intends to revisit this issue once budget season is completed.