How NJ schools respond to declining enrollment
The number of minors in New Jersey has dropped by the tens of thousands since the start of the 21st century, according to U.S. Census figures. For schools in some pockets of the state, the trend has led to noticeable enrollment declines and some serious decisions in order to keep operations running.
Just last year, for example, one of the most popular programs conducted by the Sussex County School Boards Association looked at ways to address a significant drop in the number of students.
Closing a school is a last resort, so districts turn to alternative methods to fill the gaps, said Janet Bamford, a spokesperson for the New Jersey School Boards Association.
“One of the things that we often see is that they begin sharing staff,” Bamford told New Jersey 101.5. “They share administrators with other districts; they share between schools in the district.”
Bamford said the state has seen the sharing of teachers in special subjects such as world languages, as well as the sharing of nursing, guidance and special education faculty.
But in order for that move to make a difference, districts eventually have to make some staffing sacrifices, including layoffs.
Schools experiencing an enrollment drop, or anticipating one in the near future, could also shift the way they fill their positions and actively seek candidates with multiple certifications.
“There’s a lot of strategies that they can undertake to share costs and share expenses as their enrollment declines,” Bamford said.
At a town hall event last week in Fair Lawn to discuss his proposal for a new school funding system, Gov. Chris Christie suggested the closure of schools in Newark.
“Enrollment’s declining in Newark, yet we don’t close schools because it’s politically unpopular to close a school in a neighborhood,” Christie said.
To fill the gaps in enrollment, districts have also gone the route of “grade reconfiguration,” Bamford said. Schools would combine first and second-graders, for instance, in one classroom.
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