Supt. Mary Bourque said that for the first time in decades, more students are leaving the Chelsea Public Schools (CPS) than are coming in – an exodus of students that seems to be heading mostly to Lynn.
“We’ve always had more students coming in from certain communities than students leaving Chelsea for those communities,” said Bourque this week. “Since July, we’re seeing the inverse. We have more going out to the four communities of Lynn, Revere, Everett and Boston…A few years ago, we were seeing an influx of students from outside of the country. We’re seeing the reverse. We’re not seeing that influx from out of the country, and we’re actually seeing the exodus of our families more to the North Shore communities. The movement is more to the North Shore. I think it’s linked to housing and affordability.”
According to CPS data, from July 1, 2019 through February 14 – 257 Chelsea students left for other communities in Massachusetts. Of the 257, the largest pattern saw 29 going to Boston; 35 going to Everett; 44 going to Lynn; and 34 going to Revere. Those are places that, historically, Bourque said usually leak more students to Chelsea than Chelsea loses to them. That trend has changed now.
The root cause could come for multiple reasons, but Bourque said she firmly believes it all comes down to the drastic rise in rents and housing costs in Chelsea.
“I do believe it’s the rising rental properties around the community,” she said. “Right now, Chelsea is experiencing it just like, if not more so, than other communities. We’re losing many, many families. I’m seeing documents of many, many families going to Lynn in particular. Lynn seems to be the most popular destination for families being able to find rental properties. Secondarily, they are going to Revere, Everett and Boston.”
Bourque, who has studied student mobility in depth during her career, said many studies have indicated over the years that student population is a bellwether for the changes that are coming to a community.
In Chelsea, she said she believes this latest trend in student population could be sounding an alarm for the community to try to take action.
“This is definitely something we have to pay attention to,” she said. “The demographics in our schools are telling of what is coming to the community at-large. We’re the canary in the coal mine for community shift. I see it as a positive though because we can look at it and get out in front so we can be prepared to meet the needs of that shift.
A consequence of that loss is that the CPS budget is likely going to shrink due to the smaller enrollments.
“We already have an issue with the Foundation Budget at the state level being broken, and it still needs to be fixed,” she said. “We still need to advocate for that. At the same time, we have a confounding situation where we’re losing student enrollment that results in a natural decrease in staffing and resources due to that lower student enrollment. The challenge will be keeping those two budgetary issues separate and not allowing them to blend together. They are two different issues.”
Bourque said the situation reminds her of what Somerville Public Schools went through some years ago as it gentrified on the back of Cambridge’s successes. At one point, she said she recalled they had somewhere around 6,000 students enrolled in the public schools, but as that City changed, the numbers dwindled down to around 4,000. She said Chelsea should fight to keep that from happening here.
Looking for a wave from Venezuela, Brazil
Chelsea has always had a reputation and a practice of having open arms to refugees and new immigrant populations.
Now, as new immigrant families seem to be migrating a bit towards the North Shore, Supt. Mary Bourque said they are keeping an eye on Brazil and Venezuela as potential sources of incoming students.
Bourque said immigrant groups from crisis areas of the world typically begin showing up in Chelsea schools about 10 to 15 months after the crisis in their countries.
With the recent political upheaval in Venezuela with its leadership, she said the federal government is considering giving Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelans. That, she said, could result in more students arriving from that country soon.
“It will be interesting to wait and see if we get an influx from Venezuela,” she said. “It usually happens 15 to 18 months after a crisis. We’ll watch to see if this summer enrollments begin to come in from that country.”
In Brazil, she said a down economy has already brought a trickling of new Brazilian students to the district.