Millburn Demographic Study Shows School Population of 5,135 by 2017-2018 Academic Year
Tuesday, September 10, 2013 • 6:30am
MILLBURN, NJ - A demographer and an architect on Monday presented their projections on school enrollment and the capacity of the public academic buildings to the Millburn Board of Education.
According to statistics presented by Joseph Richardson, a demographics expert with Whitehall Associates, the public school population in the township will grow from a projected 5,036 during the 2013-2014 school year to 5,135 during the 2017-2018 school year.
Fairly modest gains or decreases in the entering kindergarten classes from the 2007-2008 school year through the 2011-2012 school year followed by a jump from 311 entering students in 2011-2012 to 371 in 2012-2013 drew some concerns both about possible future growth patterns and questioning of Richardson's methology.
The demographer said the normal method of projecting a future school population is the “cohort survival method,” which tracks based on the number of live births in a give year to the survival of those born in that year and entering school over a given period of time.
Richardson said he has used the five-year cohort survival method to track school populations in a number of districts for which he has prepared reports over a number of years.
However, he added, Millburn was among four districts for which an “anomaly” was found in the cohort survival method. Therefore, after consultation with township school officials, he decided to base his projections for future pre-kindergarten and kindergarten populations on an average of actual enrollments over the previous five years.
Pressed by school board member Raymond Wong on why his selection of the five-year timeframe was considered the most desirable, the demographer said that it seemed to be the most desirable based on his past experience and the fact that predictions based on his analyses in the past had been off by only one or two percent.
Board member Lise Chapman wanted more specifics on the content of other variables that entered into Richardson's calculations.
He responded his methodology took into account all variables provided each of those variables changed at the same rate over time.
The demographer agreed with Board President Jeffrey Waters that the effect of specific non-numerical factors within his numerical analysis would be difficult to break out for a specific community.
Richardson did have one conclusion specific to Millburn, however. He said his research showed that, despite a decrease in the township's population over the years, there had been continued increases in school enrollment, meaning that people were moving into the township in order to take advantage of Millburn schools.
Although she agreed with a statement by Waters that it probably was not accurate to project school population growth on anecdotal evidence, board member Regina Truitt said it had been her experience that many people seemed to be moving into Millburn-Short Hills when their children were about three years old.
The long-term effect of school enrollment projections, of course, could be a factor in the cost of school capital improvement projects, although board member Eric Siegel said an increase of 1 or 2 percent probably would have little effect.
Former board member Noreen Bernini, who studied enrollment projections over about 15 years, said although the “five-year rolling average” was just a planning instrument it could be useful.
Another former board member, Josh Scharf, said the board should research whether non-resident students attending township schools were “crowding out” Millburn-Short Hills students.
He said if the average cost per student was about $18,000 and the average township property owner was paying about $20,000 per year in property taxes each non-resident student attending the township's public schools was costing residents about $20,000 and the board should see that the “gatekeepers” in the administration do a better job of screening out non-resident students.
Scharf also said while, in most surrounding communities, about 20 percent of the population attends public schools, in Millburn the figure was closer to 25 percent.
Later, when it came time for board member comment, school body member Michael Birnberg said he would like to see proof that the total of non-resident students was as high as 1,000—seemingly pointing to Scharf's statistics.
Birnberg added the administration had required proof of township residency of ninth graders a few years ago and occasionally did the same of students in other grades.
The board member also said he was “vehemently opposed” to a suggestion by resident Judy Rosenthal that the school district spend no more money on capital improvements.
He said he was glad the district had recently improved its infrastructure by re-roofing several of the schools, renovated the fieldhouse and improved the locker rooms at Millburn High School.
Rosenthal also said that Millburn's students were "very bright" and a few extra students in a classroom or failure to “strive for perfection” in the schools would not prevent them from succeeding.
Birnberg replied that the schools should be striving for the best they could be.
In a report on actual enrollment, Superintendent of Schools James Crisfield said the report released as of Monday afternoon showed a decrease of 51 students or 1.02 percent for the 2013-2014 school year, which began last week. He said while enrollment figures would be unofficially updated a few more times the official figures for 2013 would be final on Oct. 15.
In another report that probably will have a great impact on facilities planning, architect Greg Somjen or the district's architectural consults, Parette Somjen, gave his analysis of general classroom student capacity of each of the township's schools compared to state facility efficiency standards (FES).
Somjen noted the state standards were developed a few years ago to provide a uniform standard for assessing school capacity to enable the fair distribution of state grant funds.
His report compared the actual capacity of each school with the state guidelines, which set a standard space allocation for classrooms based on the level on instruction, with the assumption that the classroom is being built to meet today's standards.
The architect noted the state is not requiring the erection of new facilities in each case but only says facilities must meet the education needs of their students.
The Deerfield School, with an FES of 590, has an actual capacity of that figure; while Glenwood has an FES of 520 and a capacity of 477, Hartshorn an FES of 585 and an actual capacity of 603, South Mountain an FES of 485 and an actual capacity of 459, Wyoming an FES of 388 and an actual capacity of 355, the middle school an FES of 1242 and an actual capacity of 1047, and the high school an FES of 2256 and an actual capacity of 2058.