FAIR LAWN – The Board of Education confirmed the district will grow by approximately 500 students in the next five years after a previous meeting featuring the demographer left board members and the public wondering whether the numbers were accurate.
On Dec. 14, Interim Superintendent Ernest Palestis confirmed the numbers.
“We have worked with multiple experts on just about every component of the referendum approach, and I have mentioned on a number of occasions that we have been working with two demographers," Palestis said. "At our meeting [on Dec. 4] we had projections provided by Dr. Haber. We also have a contract with an organization called Statistical Forecasting. So we worked with two different demographers to ensure to the public in Fair Lawn that the additions that we are proposing to build on Thomas Jefferson School and Memorial School will adequately house our students."
“Whether we use Dr. Haber’s numbers or whether we use Statistical Forecasting, the reality is that we’re still going to grow by 100 students a year. And that has been validated by two different demographers. When that comes to reality, unless we’re able to pass the referendum on March 13, we certainly won’t have room to house those students. That is very conclusive," he said.
In a handout depicting bar graphs that the Board of Education provided to the dozen residents who were in attendance at the Dec. 14 board meeting at Thomas Edison School, both Ross Haber and Associates and Statistical Forecasting projected an increase of about 100 students in a 10-year span, starting from 2012-13 and stretching into the 2022-23 school year in grades K-12.
In five years, Haber projects the total enrollment at the district will swell to 5,441 pupils (as he stated in a referendum presentation earlier in the month) while Statistical Forecasting projected a total enrollment of about 5,511. The average enrollment between the two projections in 2022-23 is 5,476.
As of November, the district had 5,034 students.
The projections don’t include out-of-district and special education students, Palestis said. The demographers worked with the borough Planning Board to arrive at the figures, Palestis said.
Palestis noted that the differences in both demographers’ enrollment calculations in the next five years were “minor.” The superintendent explained the trivial differences were attributed to Haber’s report done in September which was completed when the project proposal from the $24 million expansion plan for the borough’s two middle schools was sent to the Department of Education for review.
“Normally, the demographer's report [is] based on October counts,” he said.
Palestis said he met with staff from Memorial School to review the data, which he presented on Dec. 14. He added that he will meet with district staff early next year to review the data once again.
Despite a public backlash on social media regarding Haber's projections, none present at the meeting questioned Palestis' update.
The bar graphs will be posted on the district website at fairlawnschools.org under “Referendum," district officials said.