School Closings & the Long-Term Outlook

School closings need to be considered in light of the long-term (5-10 years or more) outlook – a 3-5 year outlook, yet alone 1-2 years, is not nearly long enough when considering a measure whose impact lasts for many years, at a student/family level, as well as financial.
What muddies this school closing picture is the outlook for continued enrollment increases on the east side of town, not just the far west and southwest sides. I’ve heard the district is considering purchase of land not far from the interstate with an eye to building an elementary school there one day. It’s hard to imagine building a new school for $10+ million, when other schools less than five miles away have recently been closed. I believe the combination of continued growth on the east side, combined with the continuing increasing birth rate (births have been up every year here for the past ten years, which is a significant explanatory factor for why there is increasing enrollment pressures on almost all our city schools) will render school closures quite unnecessary.
However, the picture gets further complicated when we recognize that the MMSD budget will be $40 million smaller (in real terms) over the next five years (give or take). The only way to find that kind of money is to increase class sizes. The only questions are how, where, when, and by how much. (Which again is why I think a 5-year plan is needed, to ensure these painful adjustments are done in a way that least harms the quality of education.)
Ultimately, the appropriateness and wisdom of closing any school, from a strictly financial perspective, rests on what the long-term picture looks like. This picture needs to combine long-term enrollment projections (at a neighborhood/school level) with a variety of realistic scenarios as to how class sizes may change as the long-term budget situation continues to deteriorate. Without such projections, the district runs a serious risk of doing the wrong thing: by either closing schools when it later proves unnecessary, or by leaving them open when it later proves we would have done better to close them.
Peter Gascoyne

One thought on “School Closings & the Long-Term Outlook”

  1. Peter, thanks for the excellent thoughts.
    In addition to the trends you mentioned, I worry about the consequences of peak oil, meaning when the total world production of oil begins to fall (if it hasn’t started already). An end to cheap oil could easily mean an end to growth in outlying areas as gasoline prices climb higher in response to fuel shortages, as well as growth in central cities and communities where people can live without a lot of expensive automobile travel. All of the MMSD’s central schools might then see substantial population increases.
    For references on peak oil and its possible impact, put “End of Suburbia” or just “peak oil” into your favorite search engine.

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