Enrollment at West Morris Central and Mendham High schools is going to drop dramatically in the next five years, according to a demographer’s new report.
Whitehall Associates, Inc., out of Kinnelon, was commissioned by the regional school district for a five-year enrollment projection as the headcount at each building has fluctuated in recent years.
The report, in-depth and analyzing pre-school figures through 12th grade, was consistent in its forward-looking data: enrollment in all sending districts, as well as the high schools, will be down substantially in 2017-18.
Enrollment in the district overall is projected at 2,728 in 2013-14 (1,406 at Mendham; 1,321 at Central), but in just five years is projected to be as low as 2,470, a decrease of 258 across the district.
The burden of that drop doesn’t fall on one school more than the other, as Central’s project decrease is 127 students, while Mendham’s is 131.
It’s what comes beyond the five-year projection, however, that may be a cause for concern, said Joe Richardson, a Whitehall Associates demographer who presented his information to the school board this week.
Because the regional district draws students from five municipalities, it was essential for Richardson to analyze the four corresponding K8 districts in Washington Township, Chester and the Mendhams, he said.
According to the data, the Chester Consolidated School District student body reached its pinnacle in 2008-09 with a headcount of 1,457 students. A decade later, in 2017-18, the district is projected to instruct just 898 students. From 2013-14 to the end of the five-year analysis, the district is expected to drop 27.49-percent of its student body.
A projected 21.19-percent decrease in student enrollment is projected for Mendham Borough, Richardson said, as the district will go from 628 students this school year to 519 in 2017-18.
Mendham Township is expected to see the largest decrease in student body as far as percentages are concerned, with a 2013-14 enrollment of 729 plummeting to just 516 in 2017-18.
The district with the largest headcount decrease, however, is Washington Township, Richardson said.
A projection of 2,378 students for the current school year will fall dramatically to 1,893 in just five years, a decrease of 24.05-percent.
It was Washington Township’s housing boom and enrollment crescendo of more than 3,100 students last decade that led to a new two-story elementary school being built along with an addition to West Morris Central High School.
But why the drop?
Quite simply, Richardson said, not enough babies are being made in the area.
“White people are not having kids,” the demographer told the board. “That statement is in no way meant to be racist, but the data has shown it to be true. Affluent white people especially (are not having children).”
Richardson said he also analyzed development in each of the five towns, speaking with municipal zoning and planning officers to get data and projections on potential housing structures being erected.
The lack of home development in the region is also a factor, Richardson said.
Enrollment in Mendham High School has climbed each of the last two years, and Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast opened a transfer option policy for Mendham students to attend Central this year, as the classrooms were beginning to fill. The policy allowed for up to 100 students to make the transfer if they so desired.
Only two to three students actually made the switch this year, Pendergrast said.
Central graduated its largest class ever in 2011, topping more than 370 students. Enrollment has gradually decreased each of the last two years.
What do you think of the projected decrease in enrollment? If the numbers come to fruition, what should the high school district do in response?