BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ -- Enrollment will continue to drop for the foreseeable future in Bernards Township schools.
A declining birth rate is largely responsible. It will take years for smaller classes to work their way through the system, said demographer Dr. Richard Grip, who presented his updated report to the Board of Education on Nov. 25.
Enrollment in the district as of mid-October was 5,117, the sixth straight year of fewer students. Grip projected an enrollment decline of about seven percent over the next five years, the extent of his analysis.
This year’s number is 635 students lower than peak enrollment in 2013-14, he said. He projected 5,002 pupils next year, 4934 in 2021-22 and 4,819 in 2022-23.
The most pronounced decline is in the younger grades. Grip said there are one-sixth fewer children in those grades this year than in 2014-15.
The numbers in pre-kindergarten through grade 5 dropped to 2,032 in 2019-20, compared to 2,513 in 2013-14. There have been fewer incoming kindergartners than the outgoing class for nine years.
Middle and high school numbers have not declined as dramatically. High school numbers stayed level at about 1,888 from 2014-15 through 2016-17, and was down to 1,804 in October counts. Middle school numbers declined only about 10 percent in the decade.
Grip projected the middle school enrollment to drop to 1,129 in 2024-25, from this year’s 1,281. He foresaw high enrollment going from this year’s 1,804 to 1,783 next year, 1,713 in 2022-23 and 1,608 in 2024-25.
The numbers could affect an imminent board decision on whether to build an addition of four classrooms and expanded kitchen facilities at Ridge High School.
Birth counts are largely responsible – fewer students are coming into the system than aging out. Births declined to a low of 141 in 2017 (from 282 in 2005) but bumped up to 171 in 2018. Births are used to project the number of kindergarten students five years later, he said.
Cedar Hill and Liberty Corner schools’ sending districts showed the highest growth in number of births and were home to the two largest proposed developments
The wild cards in the equation are children moving into the district and the impact of new housing.
Grip projected 232 public school children (K-12) from new housing in the two schools’ attendance areas. Most came from the Dewy Meadow and Mountain View development proposals.
He forecast 98 students coming from the development of 198 units of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments (30 would be set aside for low- and moderate-income households) at the former Dewy Meadow Shopping Center. Site work and demolition are ongoing and the project is likely to be completed by early 2021, he said.
Mountain View Boulevard project of 220 apartment units (62 low-moderate income households) and 60 three-bedroom townhouses. The project has been submitted to Planning Board but has not been approved, he said.
Grip withdrew the impact of development of the Millington Quarry property from this study. He had considered it in 2017.
Home sales are up in the last six years from the recession years of 2008-2011.
Single-family homes yield more children than either townhomes or apartments, he said. Most of the talked-about development in Bernards has been apartments or condominiums, which typically attract families with fewer school-age children, he said.