BEVERLY — The city’s high school is already over capacity by 50 students just five years after it opened, according to Mayor Michael Cahill.

Now, city and school officials plan to “have a very serious conversation” about whether to limit the number of students allowed into the district through the school-choice program, said Cahill, who raised the issue recently at a City Council hearing on the new middle school.

It’s a good problem to have, school officials said. But since first- and second-grade class sizes are higher than the current high school classes, it could mean more of a squeeze at the high school down the road.

The high school, when opened in 2010, was built for 1,250 students, Principal Sean Gallagher said. That’s 85 percent of what the school could actually take in.

But the school’s population has already hit that number and exceeded it. Grades 9-12 now total around 1,300 students, according to Gallagher.

“It’s almost like a Catch-22,” he said, attributing the increase to the quality of Beverly’s educational system. “The benefit is we’re providing a great education in Beverly.”

The result of having more students means adding more sections of various classes, he said. The mobility of students allows for more flexibility, he said, unlike at the elementary level where each teacher is set up in one classroom.

At the high school, he noted, “not every teacher has their own classroom.”

The rise in student population isn’t considered a problem yet, Gallagher said. If the school were to add 100 more students, he said, that’s when the crowding would become more serious.

More students coming

But that may not be far off in the future.

The total number of children at each grade level across the elementary schools averages between 340 and 370 students, Cahill said. If each of these classes were to stay around 340 students, that’s a total high school population of 1,360 students.

With a planned middle-school capacity of 1,395, that school would be close to capacity, as well.

By the 2020-2021 school year, projections indicate that grades 5-8 could be at 1,428 total students, according to the presentation made to the City Council on the new middle school, planned to open for September 2018.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority uses a formula to plan how large a school should be built based off a projection of its population. Each student accounts for a certain amount of square footage, according to Paul Manzo, School Committee president.

“It’s well understood by the MSBA that you could actually put more students in a school building than the enrollment they agreed to,” Manzo said.

However, he added that the district does “have to be careful with going over that enrollment.”

George Binns, a member of the middle school’s building committee who attended many of the hearings on the high school before it was built, said it’s “just a fundamental problem in dealing with the MSBA. When we open the new middle school, it will be at capacity ... if the curve continues the way it’s going, it will be over capacity.”

The money factor

Cahill said the School Committee will be discussing the issue within the coming weeks.

“You look at your total class size at every level and what’s our capacity — we can have more students than what (a school) was built for, but not too many more,” he said.

That’s where school choice comes into the picture.

The district currently allows 10 school-choice students per elementary grade and 15 at the secondary level.

Last year Beverly had 95 school-choice students, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Since 2014, Beverly has been on the positive side of school choice — there are more students coming into Beverly on school choice than there are Beverly students leaving for other districts.

Looking at the revenue coming in from school choice is also a consideration. The district is paid about $5,000 per student for each one who comes into the district on school choice, but pays out the same amount for those who leave.

Whether the city will limit choice for the coming school year, in the future, or at all, has yet to be determined.

“Limiting choice is something we need to look at,” Cahill said. “It’s a conversation we need to have.”

Arianna MacNeill can be reached at 978-338-2527 or at amacneill@salemnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SN_AMacNeill.

North Shore School Districts 
Districts that accept school choice students 
Beverly 
Essex Technical High School 
Hamilton-Wenham 
Ipswich 
Peabody 
Districts that don't accept school choice students 
Boxford 
Danvers 
Marblehead 
Masconomet 
Middleton 
Salem 
Swampscott 
Topsfield 

Source: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education