Parkview Homes and School Overcrowding

The new Parkview Homes affordable housing development off Lexington Street will house children within the Burr School district. Many area parents have expressed concern that city planners have supported this private development but have not planned for its impact on school overcrowding.

If new construction creates increased tax revenues for the City, don’t we end up coming out even or ahead? The answer is more complicated than that, relating to resources, timing, and planning. I’ll start an explanation of why with an example:

Build 10 new 3- or 4- bedroom homes and sell them for Newton’s market rate of $923,000 each. Tax them at $10.90 per thousand of value and $100,607 per year goes into city coffers. Based upon recent history, perhaps 60% of that money, or $60,400, is allocated to the schools.

Look around you. Who moves into new houses on the market in Newton? Overwhelming, families with school-age or soon-to-be school-age children. Say that 7 of the 10 households have 2 children who will go into NPS in the fall. At an average cost of $14,500 per student, the cost “burden” of these 14 new children is $203,000, or more than 3 times the tax money their homes create for our schools.

Eventually, as school children grow up and their households join the other 80% that have no children in our schools, these new and renovated homes (homes that turn over) more than cover their cost to our city and to our schools. But the immediate impact of each new home that is sold to a family with school-age children is to create a resource deficit in their local school district.

These deficits can be quite uneven. Add one child to a school and the incremental resource burden may be unnoticeable. But add a new third grader when each of the existing third grade classrooms are at a population tipping point, and suddenly another classroom and another teacher may be necessary.

This is why many speak of charging developers impact fees when they build new housing, as a means of offsetting this sudden resource deficit. But an impact fee likely does not help a neighborhood school this fall, when and where the new kids hit; rather it will flow gradually through the machinery of government decision-making and allocation. How many years have more and more kids been crammed into Burr and only now (this December) is a modular coming for some space relief? So it is no wonder that many parents reflexively cringe when a new housing development, regardless of what broad social goals it may be meeting, appears in the neighborhood.

This is a challenging problem, responding to organic needs (variable student enrollments) with inorganic, resource-rich, time delayed solutions (school building additions and renovations). We have a better idea of how many kids will be in the system each year as a whole than of how these new kids will be distributed within our individual schools.

How can we respond flexibly? One idea is to build our new and renovated schools with slightly oversized core facilities (gym, library, bathrooms, admin offices, etc.) and extra perimeter classroom spaces that can be sectioned off and used as city offices during lower enrollment times, and used as additional classrooms during higher enrollment times. City departments such as Health, DPW, and Public Buildings all occupy remote sites around the city now, and would be well-suited to occupy end wings of school buildings. When pushed out by higher school enrollments they could occupy other city space or rental office space elsewhere within Newton.

This sort of idea doesn’t help us in the very short term, but remember, had we been thinking this way 10 or 15 years ago we would be in a very different, hopefully better space situation right now. And parents wouldn’t be balking at the sight of every new house going up on the next block.