Lexington’s Public Schools now allow students to attend a neighborhood school, 1 of 6 elementary schools across town, based on where they live (“school districts”). This minimizes how far a child must travel to get to school, but it results in many classrooms with fewer students than the “preferred” or the “maximum” number, as determined by School Committee policy.

In the current 2017-18 school year, the Schools could save about $2 million if they operated with 130 classrooms instead of 146 as they staff for, which would be possible by moving just 101, or 3.2% of our 3,153 elementary students to another school, as this chart shows (here as an Excel spreadsheet):

Oct 2017 elementary classrooms
Because Kindergarteners, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders tend to stay in our schools until they graduate 5th grade, once 3.2% of students have been reassigned to another school, in subsequent years it is likely that far fewer students would need to be reassigned — maybe 0.5% or 1%: the School department could model this, since it has information about individual students across school years.

Nov 16, 2017 update: the Schools emailed us yesterday data about how many of our Oct 1, 2017 students were NOT in Lexington’s schools the previous school year (2016-17) — call them “new” students. School policy since Dec 2016 is that “new” students are no longer guaranteed their “neighborhood school”, so we updated our analysis: this year, $2 million and 16 classrooms could have been saved if 88 “new” and 10 non-“new” students had been assigned to another school, in total 98 students (while updating our analysis, we discovered a small error: our previous 101 should have been 98). With 130 classrooms instead of 146, the average number of students would rise by +2.7 students per classroom in grades K-5 systemwide, from 21.6 to 24.3 students per classroom.

The exact same phenomenon has existed for many years. In the 2014-15 school year,
140 classrooms across our 6 elementary schools accommodated 3,024 students in total, as follows:
FY15 Enrollment
The chart below on the left recaps these 140 classrooms by size (with “preferred” class size in green and “maximum” class size in blue: those are respectively in Kindergarten 18 and 20 students; in Grade 1, 22 and 24; in Grade 2, 22 and 26; in Grades 3 to 5, 24 and 26).

For example, in Grade 2 in 2014-15, our 6 elementary schools had 4 classrooms with 19 students each, 5 classrooms with 20, 3 classrooms with 21, 4 classrooms with 22 (the “preferred” size), 4 classrooms with 23, 3 classrooms with 24, 1 classroom with 25 students and no classroom with 26 students (the “maximum” size).
Half of all our Grade 2 classrooms (12 out of 24) had fewer than 22 students, the “preferred” size, i.e. were quite “empty”.

The chart
below on the right shows how the same 3,024 students could have been accommodated with 14 fewer classrooms systemwide (in 126 instead of 140 classrooms) if just 2% of students had been assigned to a different school building. Since each classroom costs the Town over $100,000 annually (teacher salary and benefits, supplies, space, utilities, etc), reassigning just 2% of our students more optimally would save the Town about $1.5 million annually.

FY15 actual elementary sections by size FY15 elementary sections by size with 2 percent of students moved to another building

In the 2015-16 school year, things are even worse: we opened 2 more classrooms than we had last year (142 vs. 140) for just 29 more students (3,053 vs. 3,024) and 55% of our 142 classrooms (up from 49% of 140 classrooms last year) have fewer than the “preferred” number of students.

It is nice for students to attend a neighborhood school, but in light of our rising enrollments,
this policy is now too costly.

The School Committee must introduce flexibility and
do away with school districts, only giving priority to families with a sibling already in a particular school when assigning students to schools. The result will be fewer classrooms (therefore the financial savings, at over $100,000 per classroom annually), but with classrooms closer to “preferred” and “maximum” class sizes. This must be done before the Town asks for another tax increase.