Education

Montville Township School Board Faces Declining Enrollment

Richard Grip, Ed.D., Executive Director, Statistical Forecasting LLC Credits: Melissa Benno
Richard Grip, Ed.D., Executive Director, Statistical Forecasting LLC Credits: Melissa Benno

MONTVILLE, NJ - Facing a projected seven percent decline in enrollment over the next five years, the Montville Township School District will be convening a task force to decide what to do with the results of a demographics study presented at its Sept. 20 Board of Education meeting.

Superintendent of Schools René Rovtar said the task force will be composed of Board of Education representatives, parents and employees, and she hopes to have information in February or March so that decisions can be made for the 2017-18 school year.

The study, conducted in April of 2016 by Statistical Forecasting LLC, was presented by Executive Director Richard Grip, Ed.D., who coincidentally began his career as a Montville Township High School teacher.

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Grip said the purpose of the study was to project enrollment for the next five years, analyze past enrollments and population trends, the impact of new trends on enrollments, and map addresses to see where students live. He said enrollment could not be projected further than five years because those students had not been born yet.

Grip said in the 1990s there was a 33% gain in population in Montville Township, but then starting in approximately 2010, the population began to flatten out. Board President Matthew Kayne said this was probably because of the connection of Route 287.

Grip attributed the later population flattening to being part of the Highlands Preservation area, and therefore future development in Northern New Jersey is limited.

The population of whites has gone from 85% in 2000 to 78%, while Asians is the second largest group at 18%, Grip said. The median age is 43 years. Nearly 20% of the community is foreign-born, mostly from India, and the community is highly educated, with 62% holding a bachelor’s or higher degree. The average income is about $130,000, while the state average is $89,000. There are 7,800 housing units in Montville Township, of which 83% are one-unit homes.

In April of 2015-16, enrollment was 3,773.5. Enrollment has declined for six consecutive years, which is 408.5 students or about 10% since 2006, Grip told the board. While that is the overall trend, the elementary enrollment has been declining for ten years, which will start being seen at the high school soon, he said.

Grip said that he saw strong “inward migration” for pre-school through sixth grade students, meaning, many families with pre-school through grade six children are moving into the district. However, after sixth grade, families are moving away. He said the number of graduating 12th grade students is greater than the number of kindergarten students replacing them in the next year, by an average of 98 per year.

“Your kindergarten counts aren’t big enough to balance out what’s happening on the other end,” he said. “For a district, that’s almost unsustainable, to have that kind of a difference in the 12th grade and kindergarten counts, because you need significant ‘inward migration’ to balance it out.”

Grip attributed the declining kindergarten enrollment to the drop in Montville Township births: 281 in 2001 but 172 in 2012. He said the largest decline in births was in the Cedar Hill area, but the highest number of births was in the Woodmont area.

While the birth rate is dropping, the kindergarten enrollment figures have not dropped as steeply because of families moving into the district due to its quality, Grip said. He also attributed the lower birth rate to the fact that the majority of Montville Township residents are in their forties.

Grip reported that 86 houses had been issued certificates of occupancy over the past five years,  with the potential for 100 new housing units, which will equate to 66 school-age children.

Mayor Jim Sandham informed the board that two significant developments could be built in the future: a 300-unit apartment complex on the GI Auto property in Pine Brook on Route 46, and the former Bayer complex may have mixed-use units with 100 housing units.

Home sales numbered 328 in 2001, decreased to their lowest at 181 in 2001, and increased to 279 last year, Grip reported.

“The projected decline is going to continue,” Grip concluded. “Due to declining birth rates, the elementary population is still projected to decline, even with people moving in with kids from other communities. The total [projected] loss over the five-year period is 364.5 kids. So [the district] will be at 3400 students at the end of the five-year period.”

The district currently has 3,684 students.

Grip said it usually takes 15 years for a district to go from “peak to trough, and then back to peak again.”

“You’re only in the first six years of the cycle,” he said. “It would not surprise me if you were in a 12- to 15-year decline cycle before things turn around. Once you start to see stabilization of kindergarten enrollments, that will carry through and start that trend to change. But I don’t see that in the next five years.”

Grip projected all elementary schools to have declining enrollment for the next five years, except Woodmont. He said Cedar Hill’s enrollment decline will be the highest at 121 in the year 2020 and Woodmont’s will be an increase of 50 more than this year.

Grip showed capacity amounts vs. current and projected enrollments for the seven schools and showed that the three schools that are currently above capacity levels will no longer be at that level, but stressed that capacity levels are fluid and not hard numbers.

Board Member David Modrak was surprised that 100 new homes equated to only 66 school-aged children, but Grip said that was normal in Northern New Jersey.

Grip said the almost-10% drop over the past ten years was “significant.” Modrak said in the elementary classroom, 10% is “two to three kids per class, and that’s not a lot of kids.”

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Rovtar announced that an outside agency will be evaluating the special services at grades kindergarten through fifth grade, not because a problem is perceived, but to “look for efficiencies.”

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