Have you wondered why the total number of students in Nutley has only increased by about 102 students over the past 8 years but the schools are still overcrowded? That’s less than 15 students per school increase yet there is zero classroom space available.
There are 5 major reasons that we find ourselves in this situation:
1. First and foremost, the State’s Department of Education has issued mandates regarding classroom use for special education, including integrated preschool, English Language Learning, and other small group instruction that has literally shrunk our schools before adding even one additional student.
2. Second, the all-day kindergarten program, a program I would support all over again, requires double the classroom space as compared to half day sessions, and has seen steady enrollment growth. We had 3 of 5 schools’ kindergartens closed with Radcliffe over capacity and eleven students displaced from their home schools at the beginning of the school year.
3. Third, our highly successful special needs programs, including those for our students receiving ABA (applied behavioral analysis), requires more space than mainstream student programs. This is another program I would support all over again.
4. Fourth, single-family home turnover has brought young families to town with their young children and of course there has been development bringing a very small number of students to the district.
5. Much of the population increase is taking at Washington overall and Spring Garden’s integrated pre-school program. We are pleased to be able to offer mandated Special Services to our pre-school population but this requires the appropriate classroom space.
Since the two referendums did not pass, Nutley has had to make some very costly decisions using money from capital and maintenance reserves to place additional temporary trailers at our elementary schools. The initial trailer placed at Yantacaw School in the early 2000’s cost $287,180. A second was place more recently in 2016. Washington School has 2 trailers placed in 2016 at a cost of $777,575. This year, 2019, Washington School has a third trailer being erected atop the newer trailer costing $636,775. Spring Garden’s new trailer will cost $551,930 as this one will also be able to accommodate a second story trailer should the need arise. That totals more than $2.5 million dollars for temporary band-aids. That’s right…temporary! These are not built to be permanent. In fact, the State mandate is that you cannot use trailers for more than 2 years! It’s meant to be a temporary fix while you build your infrastructure.
This is why I was a strong proponent of the referendum. That money would have better served a more permanent build-out, as well as support the safety and security efforts the BOE has been implementing since at least 2015. Additionally, the referendum would have allowed us to move our 6th grade to the middle school, providing the educational benefits of a true middle school model.
However, we are where we are. The recommendation at this juncture is to STILL get those 6th graders moved into the middle school. The property has already been purchased and the plans for the middle school expansion are nearing the final version so that we can move forward with another referendum that would allow our 6th graders to be part of a true middle school model. And, once again, we will need your support to secure the future for our students and our community.
Overcrowding is an issue that is not going away. While the BOE has no control over the new construction that takes place in Nutley, even if another residential structure was never built again, we would STILL have an overcrowding issue due to all the factors listed above. It’s a problem that we will continue to struggle with and requires an investment to solve. We hope the greater community understands this and will work with us to invest in our schools and our children to provide them with a safe, secure, and optimal learning environment.