By John Burton
While the general public school population in Monmouth County is declining, some towns are experiencing sharp increases in enrollment – and Red Bank is one of them.
The Red Bank Board of Education last week accepted a demographer’s report that indicated that student enrollment in grades K-8 has risen by 18 percent over the last six years.
According to the last U.S. Census in 2010, population in general is also up in Red Bank, which experience a three percent increase over the previous Census in 2000.
“We didn’t need a demographer to tell us,” that student enrollment had risen, said Red Bank Board of Education President Ann Roseman. “But I think it was more stark hearing it in the report.”
During the last few years the district established a fulltime pre-school program, paid for in large measure by additional state aid funding specifically for pre-school programs. “Which means people are putting their kids in earlier,” Roseman observed, and it appears those children are continuing in the district’s schools.
This year’s kindergarten class has 145 children, which indicates that next year’s first grade class will have about that number or slightly more, making it the largest first grade class in the district’s history, according to Laura Morana, the district’s superintendent of schools. In previous years first grade enrollment tended to hover between 100-118, she said.
“We’re basically seeing a steady increase coming into the system,” Morana said.
The demographer’s report, “was not able to isolate anything to serve as the rationale for the increase other than it could very well be attributed to the kids entering the pre-K program and staying in the system,” Morana said.
“Who knows? The economy may play a significant role,” Morana added. “I’m sure there are many, many factors and we cannot point, to single out,” the reasons.
While the reasons may be uncertain, the impact is substantial. To accommodate the added number of pre-K students, the district has had to contract with outside organizations like the Community YMCA and Monmouth Day Care to provide classroom space.
The higher enrollment is projected to continue into the foreseeable future.
“We are anticipating on seeing a steady increase over the next five-10 years,” Morana predicted.
“In our budget process we have to take that into account and make the necessary adjustments particularly as it relates to staffing and facilities,” she explained. In the not too distant future, she predicted, “People will be sharing classrooms.”
While the increased enrollment presents the district with a number of challenges, it also has a positive side. “It could be a credit to the district doing better,” said Roseman. People feel it’s more appealing and they stay.”
According to Joseph Passiment, executive superintendent of schools, and executive county school business administrator for Monmouth and Union counties, public school enrollment in Monmouth County has been declining since the 2004-05 school year.
“Overall, the county has probably lost about 3,800 in that timeframe,” Passiment said, with the total student population in county public schools now at 104,500.
“There are ample reasons for that,” he said. “The economy has something to do with that.”
And “Obviously, we’re in a much more mobile society,” he said.
A review of 2010 U.S. Census data shows the county population increased by approximately 15,000 between 2010 and 2000. The current population in Monmouth is now about 630,380.
But shifts in school population are occurring around the county.
Asbury Park has experienced a drop in its public student population, as has Marlboro. Eatontown schools have lost 193 kids. And that reduction, Passiment speculated, is likely related to the closing of Fort Monmouth and the relocation of many of the fort’s civilian employees. “The people in some very prominent industries have lost their jobs in Monmouth County and therefore they had to move out of the county,” Passiment observed.
The Howell public school district has had a significant decrease in recent years and is considering shuttering one of its schools, Passiment said.
“Declining enrollment means you would need less of everything, less stuff,” he explained. “And that would have an impact on the district.”
While some districts have seen the numbers go down, others, like Red Bank, are on the upswing. “Several of the minority populations in these areas are growing,” Passiment said, adding that it is a trend seen statewide. Student population at Freehold Regional High School is on the rise, and the increase in Red Bank, Passiment said, is among the most significant upswings in school population within the county.