Our View: Chatham Elementary School's Future


The future of Chatham Elementary School requires extensive discussion and some deep soul searching on the part of residents, town and school officials. Nothing should be off the table; the future of the Monomoy Regional School District is at stake.

Enrollment in the lower grades in the Monomoy district has been declining for several years, with Chatham Elementary leading the way. This year there is a single kindergarten class, and it took some School Choice kids from outside the district as well as a few Harwich students to make a full class. Those low enrollment numbers are projected to continue; in a few years, there could be just one class in every grade. It's no secret that the reason is the continued slide in the number of young families in town, and with real estate prices continuing to soar, that won't change anytime soon, despite the town's best effort to reverse the trend.

Because of the district funding formula, fewer students in Chatham means Harwich is paying a higher share of the overall Monomoy budget. And there's a growing inequity in the per-pupil cost between Chatham and Harwich elementary schools. Currently, Chatham's per-pupil cost is $16,879, while Harwich's is $11,885, with students at both schools receiving essentially the same education. The disparity will only grow as Chatham's enrollment dwindles. We won't be surprised to hear rumblings of concern about this from Harwich.

Potential ways to address the situation put forward by Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter include sending some Harwich students to Chatham Elementary; creating “upper” and “lower” grade elementary schools; or closing Chatham's school. All would require changing the district agreement, which mandates that both towns maintain their own elementary schools. When the subject was broached three years ago, Chatham firmly opposed any change. “It took three years to remove many of the arrows from my back,” said Carpenter.

That can't happen again. Chatham's parochial attitude of needing to have its own elementary school is no longer practical. Financial inequities – and they are large – aside, just the social issues involved with such small classes should be enough to convince officials, parents and residents that there needs to be a change. The idea of having a separate elementary school in Chatham as a way to entice young families to live here has merit, but a school that's too small is just as likely to tip the scales the other way. All of the options Carpenter proposed should be fully fleshed out in public forums. And Chatham officials should keep in mind the possibility of closing the school in a few years – when the numbers make it possible to accommodate all of the district's elementary students in Harwich – and saving a few million dollars by using the building as a senior center. Parking, one floor, kitchen facilities, lots of space, centrally located, it has all the amenities that would be in a newly build senior center. These discussions should start now, before a final decision is made on a new senior center.