The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 21, 2000


Guest Commentary

How Big the School?

Over the next fifteen years the population of the Carlisle Public Schools (K-8) will probably peak somewhere under 1,000 students, assuming, of course, that our present two-acre zoning regulations hold. Enrollment will then gradually tail off when new construction slows and we approach our theoretical build-out of 2,300 homes. This enrollment estimate is awkward because it straddles the stated school capacity.

We know from school officials and parents that the present school facilities are stretched and that the capacity of 900 students is truly a maximum. We also know that school enrollment projections are a combination of art and science, subject to many variables, not the least of which is predicting the number of children that will be born in Carlisle in 2005.

From our work on "Growing Pains" (Pierce, Hambleton, Ballantine, 1999), a study of growth and development in Carlisle, we confirmed that short-term variations in the school population are a function of the inflow and outflow of studentsthe size of the entering kindergarten, the change in students in other grades and the graduating eighth grade. We also discovered that the pace of new construction and the resale of homes matters a great deal. But our estimates of the entering kindergarten have been lower than the actual enrollment for this school year and next (four under this year's actual total, eight under this year's pre-enrollment, according to our revised forecast). Two explanations are that not all children were counted in the Carlisle census and there were move-ins after the January 1 census. We don't know when, but larger kindergarten classes mean that the school will approach 850 sooner than we predicted.

While the growth in current enrollment preoccupies many, it is the longer-term enrollment predictions that are more vexing. Do we build a school facility for 100 or 150 students for five or ten years? Will the school population stabilize at 1,000, 900 or 850 students? Longer-term forecasts of school population depend on the estimated build-out of the town, the population mix and the number of families with school-aged children. Over the past 30 years, all of these factors have changed markedly. UMass researchers (MISER) projected that Carlisle would have approximately 1,900 households, 5,400 people and under 900 students in the K-8 school population in 2010. Is this forecast really close to the peak?

How do we plan and think about the Carlisle School's enrollment and the associated capital and operating costs, reflected in property taxes, that come with a new school facility? We need to look at all our options and needsschool space and facility needs, estimated capacity, site expansion alternatives, long- and short-term enrollment projections, cost estimates, building and growth alternatives, comprehensive permit impact and educational options. What kind of facility should we be planning if the school truly peaks at 950 in 2015 and then gradually declines to the mid-800 range? Now is the time to study the nuances, understand the uncertainties, and debate the issues. We have the opportunity to be creative, flexible and open to a variety of options before critical expansion and educational decisions are put before a Town Meeting. Let's not miss this chance.

John Ballantine is a co-author of "Growing Pains" and a selectman.

A Sense of Place

Aside from trips to New York City or Florida, your average New Englander does not often travel to other parts of the Republic. Why should he? He has Boston, the Cape and the White Mountains, scrod and Necco wafers. And in his own town, he has the advantage, not to be lightly discarded, of knowing where he is.

If, nevertheless, someone from New England does venture beyond the Taconic Mountains, he may notice a certain rather officious practice followed by Western municipalities. There, where two streets intersect, he will always find not one, but two street signs, placed at right angles to each other at the top of a pole. There is always, in other words, a sign for each street.

In New England, of course, there will frequently (vandals permitting) be signs for side streets. But our cities and towns seldom waste money on identifying the more important street, the one a stranger will presumably first travel on.

After all, why would he travel on it if he did not already have an idea of what it was? Only a very imprudent person would do such a thing. And it is not the duty of our towns to encourage random, uninformed movement. There is too much movement as it is. The Western use of double street signs seems all the more extravagant when we consider the ease with which the names of the street in those places can be worked out. As New Englanders all know, if we ever find ourselves in Gopher Prairie, we may be sure that the principal thoroughfare will be named "Main Street." Once we have identified the first intersected street as "First Street," it goes without saying that the next intersection will be "Second Street." But apparently, this kind of reasoning is beyond the capacity of the Western mind; hence the plethora of street signs.

Outlanders expect that everything will be spelled out for them explicitly. They lack the New Englander's intuitive sense for the total situation, his ability to infer or hypothesize and then proceed sequentially from the known to the unknown.

We do have a few two-way street signs in Carlisle, more than usual in this region. These are places where a newcomer might arrive by either route and need to identify the other, as at the intersection of West and Acton Streets, or where a mistaken inference as to a continuation might be drawn, as at the junction of Russell Street, School Street and Bellows Hill Road. But our department of public works does not insult people's intelligence with intrusive reminders that we are, indeed, on Bedford Road, or Lowell Street, or South Street. And if someone is driving eastbound on South Street, he is presumed to have reached that level of sophistication in which he will know already that the artery at the end is Concord Street.

In contrast to the situation with street signs, town boundaries in New England are lavishly marked (again, vandals permitting). We all know that the town is the palladium of our liberties, but the town boundary markers also often serve as a substitute of a street sign. If a boundary marker indicates that the traveller has passed from Carlisle to Bedford, then he may infer that he has (very likely) passed from Bedford Road to Carlisle Road. This shift also serves to remind him that many things are relative. In more than one sense, a person in New England must know where he or she is coming from.

Reprinted from The Carlisle Mosquito, November 9, 1984

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito