A perfect storm of low housing construction, poor housing turnover, and low birth rates in Washington Township may amount to school enrollments of 500 less students five years from now than what the district currently serves, according to an analysis by demographer Dr. Richard Grip.
Grip, the executive director of Statistical Forecasting, LLC in Secaucus, was hired by the district in June to analyze current trends and project enrollment numbers for Washington Township over the next half decade. The analysis, Grip said, took about five months to complete.
The full report, which is 60 pages in length, explains that Washington Township has a low fertility rate and small opportunity for housing growth, both of which play a major factor in the projected decrease in enrollment.
Grip’s report shows that 2010-11 enrollment in the district was 2,642 students, a drop of 277 since the 2005-06 school year. The projection showed that enrollment in the 2015-16 school year could be as low as 2,120–a decrease of 522 students.
The district’s elementary schools: ; ; and , in addition to , have the capacity to house 3,160 students.
The report showed that a negative enrollment trend between 95 and 146 students per year over the next five years could effect the district.
“It’s the perfect storm of factors,” Grip said about the projected decrease. “The analysis on housing in Washington Township showed that construction is slow, and will be slow, and the fertility rate is lower (in Washington Township) than in other areas.”
Grip’s report also shows that women of child-bearing age, 20 to 34, is one of the lower populated demographics in Washington Township.
“In order for the decrease to not continue beyond the five years, the birth rate has to stabilize,” Grip said. “I think it will. My best guess is that it will level-off at some point around then, but forecasting beyond five or six years just increases uncertainty.”
Grip also said that current home prices in Washington Township are playing a factor. The median home price in 2010, according to his report, was $515,000.
“Someone just getting out of college who wants to move here and start a family,” Grip said, “likely won’t have the means to buy a home of that price. The analysis showed that people in their older thirties and early forties are moving to the township, but they already have children who are starting here in upper grade levels.”
Academics Still Paramount
Washington Township Schools, along with the West Morris Regional School District, are often among the state’s highest achieving districts based on test scores and graduation rates.
It’s that high-performing status that is keeping the enrollment from not decreasing even more, Grip said.
“Looking at it implicitly, people want to move here,” Grip said. “It’s the schools and the area that draws residents here in the first place. It’s just that the projections, right now, are showing an overall decrease in childbirths and housing occupancy.”
Grip’s report states that 87.9 percent of the township is covered by the Highlands Act, which can limit residential building opportunities.
“It is important to note that a factor that could change the projections is a great in-migration of children from other communities which typically can occur based on home sales and housing starts,” said district Superintendent Jeff Mohre, in a message preceding Grip’s presentation. “Here in Washington Township, the former is more realistic as future housing development is quite limited.”
But the report also goes on to say that 12 new housing units could be established at the Estates of Long Valley, and the township’s agreement with the state’s affordable housing department (formerly COAH), could yield 201 new units by 2018, two school years beyond Grip’s projections.
The effects the projections will have, if they come to fruition, could have impact on future budgets and which districts send students to which schools within the township.
“The Board of Education and Administration will use the data compiled and presented by Dr. Grip as a planning tool as it continues to ensure quality education and fiscal responsibility,” Mohre said.
The full presentation can be viewed at wtschools.org.