FLEMINGTON, NJ - Enrollment in the Flemington-Raritan Regional School District (FRSD) is projected to grow by as many as 245 students within the next five years, if all the currently planned housing developments are constructed, according to a demographic study analyzing the district.

The study indicates that even if all of the new 1,050 housing units – a large majority of them being in the Francis A. Desmares Elementary School attendance zone – do not come to fruition, enrollment is still projected to increase.

Executive director Dr. Richard Grip, of Statistical Forecasting, LLC, shared this information with the Flemington-Raritan Board of Education during a 30-minute presentation March 9, after the board had approved his firm’s educational consulting services at a cost not to exceed $25,000 in the fall.

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He did note to the board and community to be careful when interpreting the 1,050 possible new housing units.

“Everybody says, ‘Oh gosh, it is going to impact the schools tremendously,’” he said. “The problem is people don’t always dive down deep enough to see, that if they are building 1,000 studios and one-bedroom apartments, that’s not going to have the same impact as a thousand three-bedroom units, or a thousand detached single family homes, which would blow the doors off the place.”

“Please be careful to look at what type of unit is coming into the community,” he added. “That is so important.”

Public school districts, like FRSD, are the primary clients of Statistical Forecasting, LLC. The firm has completed demographic studies for approximately 150 school districts in New Jersey and New York, including NYC Public Schools, which is the largest district in the United States.

“The first question the board is going to ask is, ‘Why can’t we project out 10 years or maybe 15 years?’” Grip said. “The real reason for that is because then we have to start projecting kids who haven’t been born, and that becomes very challenging for smaller communities.”

The last decade has seen an overall decrease of about 550 students in the district. The district’s 2019-2020 enrollment, as recorded by the district on Oct. 15, 2019, sits at 3,073 students.

District enrollment had been declining in the 2010s, until the 2017-2018 school year, when a reverse trend occurred that resulted in minor increases over the last two years. Grip provided the board with the historic enrollment broken down by level: preK to four, five to six and seven to eight.

“The one that is interesting to me is the elementary level,” he said. “It had been declining until 2017-2018, but in the last couple of years, it is starting to go up. That’s really important, because those kids have to go into the upper grades, so you can imagine if they’re starting to increase, eventually it is going to start to increase at the other levels, as well.”

Grip also discussed the cohort survival ratio, or the “students who ‘survive’ from one grade to the next,” and what these ratios say about the district.

If the ratios are above 1, then the district is gaining students, and if the ratios are below 1, then the district is losing students.

“You have nine potential cohort survival ratios, birth to K, all the way up to seventh to eighth, all of them were above,” he said. “That’s kind of unusual, meaning that you have an inward migration of people coming into the district. You may be saying, ‘How have we been declining all those years, if we have inward migration?’”

He explained how each year, over the last 10 years, the district has experienced negative kindergarten/first grade replacement, meaning there aren’t enough incoming first-year students coming into the district to replace those graduating eighth graders.

“Because you have inward migration, the negative outflow due to kindergarten replacement is offset partially due to this inward migration,” he said. "Sometimes, it is partially offset, and in other cases, it is completely offset. You had enough inward migration to overcome that phenomenon (the last two years).”

Grip also was able to break down the births by the four elementary school zones: Barley Sheaf, Copper Hill, Francis A. Desmares and Robert Hunter. He noted that the most births over the 13-year period (2005-2018) are coming from people in the Francis A. Desmares zone, while the fewest are coming from the Copper Hill zone.

There has been an overall decline since 2005, but the numbers have stabilized in the last decade.

Grip also analyzed enrollment by the three most prevalent race (whites, Hispanics and Asians). The white population has been declining over the last five years, while the Hispanic and Asian populations have been increasing.

“What’s interesting, if you look at the four elementary schools, Barley Sheaf, is around 82 percent white, and Desmares is only 52 percent (in 2019-2020),” he said. “Hispanic population at Desmares is 37 percent Hispanic, as opposed to 8 percent Hispanic at Barley Sheaf. There are certainly different racial distributions occurring within the elementary zones.”

He also noted that Desmares had the highest economically disadvantaged population in 2019-2020 with 39 percent, compared to Barley Sheaf with the lowest at 8.7 percent.

New housing (planned, approved, under construction) could eventually contribute to nearly 400 new housing units in Flemington and nearly 650 new housing units in Raritan. A majority of these possible units would land in the Francis A. Desmares attendance zone.  

“The long story of this is that we are expecting about 325 additional kids from all the new housing developments, predominantly in the Desmares area,” he said.

But, he later admitted that it is “very difficult to project sometimes if these proposed housing developments are ever going to be built, and when are they going to roll out, and kids are actually coming into the district.”  

Both sets of numbers were provided to the board: a baseline graph with no housing impact, and an adjusted graph with impacts from the proposed housing growth.

“There’s a big difference here,” he said. “In both cases, you can see that enrollment is projected to go up, regardless, but we are talking about a difference of around 170 or so students, between the two projections (baseline and adjusted).”

If all the housing were to come to fruition, with all the other factors considered, the study indicates 105 students in preK to four, 130 in grades five to six, and 10 in grades seven to eight could enter a district, which is prepared to house them all.

“The real wild card is the housing,” Grip said. “Based upon the way you are using your buildings, you have the capacity to house them.”

The detailed report, more than 100 pages long, had a number of objectives: five-year projection of grade-by-grade enrollments from 2020-2021 through 2024-2025; an analysis of community population trends and age structure, birth and fertility rates; an examination of the district’s historical enrollments, both districtwide and by grade configuration and by race/poverty status; a computation of student yields (children per housing unit) by property type (like SF, townhouse/condo, and apartment); the impact of new developments on enrollment; and a projection of  enrollments based on students yields and housing turnover rates (completely independent analysis).

“I want to thank you for being so specific when you talk to us in the report about each school, and how the enrollments are going to increase,” said Superintendent Kari McGann. “That helps us and helps my equity committee really look at some data and make some decisions.”

Anyone interested in viewing the full presentation, can find it at www.frsd.k12.nj.us/Page/25.