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Twp. Schools Could Lose 500 Pupils in 5 Years

Demographer's reports shows decreasing trend through 2015-16.

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.

Claire January 08, 2012 at 12:25 AM
There are only a few Mendham "folks" trashing LV ... from what i've seen at sport events, many Mendham students are poorly behaved, arguing with refs, complaining about calls, getting thrown off the field by refs for poor behavior ... just like their parents, always/only wanting for themselves. I am proud that my student is not behaving like that on the court/field. maybe you should think about who you are listening to.
Gavin Leslie January 09, 2012 at 05:41 PM
The next BOE meeting is Tuesday, Jan 10, 7:30pm LVMS. I have asked the Board to explain their process with regard to the Demographic Study. The main points of my letter, below. To: Mr Michael Rec, President of the Board of Education The conclusions of the study raise significant questions. Will Washington Township have too many schools for the number of students in the school district? In fact, do we have too many schools today? The demographic study projects a steady fall in the number of students in our schools. The last demographic study commissioned by the Board projected steadily rising student enrollment, for which we built the Benedict A. Cucinella school. In fact there has been a steady fall. The obvious decision facing our community is whether we should close a school. An open debate is called for and the case for reducing/maintaining the current number is needed as part of the next budget proposal. This is a complex question for the community and a transparent process is needed. Projections can be inaccurate and we held a referendum in 2003 when the projections indicated the need for a new school. We now need to make a decision and take action based on the latest projections. What process does the Board of Education propose to follow in order to lay out all the options for the community and will the Board hold a referendum to decide the future of our schools?
wt-taxpayer January 09, 2012 at 09:40 PM
Mr. Leslie is exceptionally intuitive in bringing major points to the BOE. Transparancy and allowing the public to scrutanize the data is important and declsions need to be made via referendum if ANY additional tax dollars are involved. Frankly, it seems that a study should be done outside the perview and jurisdiction of the BOE or include county and twp. govt. and/or regional voices because on their own they have such a stake in keeping the status quo.
RGJ January 09, 2012 at 10:28 PM
I wish you well. There isn't any point, really, of a debate, if parents can understand that given the state caps on school spending, disproportionate overhead means cuts to programs and quality. That should make everyone -- tax hawks and parents -- support the mothballing of one school immediately. I don't think we should be selling off properties just yet, because the problem with a cohort study is....well, we found out what the problem with a cohort study is in 2003. That said, enrollment is going to drop significantly for a few years, that is baked in the cake, and we are already on the brink of the appropriate action point to mothball a school. It is a compromise that will leave future options open and lower overhead immediately. And while these ideas for adding pre-K or converting to a community center, etc, are nice, this isn't a lottery win, it is taxpayers' money. Return it to the taxpayers. With the Highlands and zero ratable growth for the next....err...ever....property taxes are going to be steadily outpacing our neighboring towns. That will further accelerate the attractiveness or ability of young families to move here....I don't think the study even factored that reality in. Dr. Mohre quickly points out that the study could be erring on the low side....but he neglects to say it may be erring on the high side as well.
Gavin Leslie January 09, 2012 at 10:46 PM
@RGJ I agree that mothballing a school is an option that gives us future flexibility. I included it in the full text of my letter to the BOE. Your point about the property tax and its deterrant effect on any influx of young families are well made and add emphasis to the study's findings.

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