The number of K-12 students attending public school in several areas of the Garden State is dropping.

New Jersey Department of Education data shows enrollment has dipped in a little more than 50 percent of the state’s school districts since the 2010-11 school year, especially in Northwest New Jersey and on barrier islands along the Jersey Shore. But overall enrollment is holding flat.

During the 2016-17 school year, there were 1,369,085 students enrolled in New Jersey public schools, compared to 1,364,494.5 in the 2010-11 school year.

According to Richard Bozza, the executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, it’s not unusual for enrollment rates to periodically rise and fall.

He said over the past 50 years, enrollment has gone up and down at different times, for different reasons, “so you see districts using demographers who will take a look at the trends in terms of what the home construction is, whether there are rental units, whether there will be more families, more children.”

He said the idea is for school districts to figure out “How are we going to deal with that? Are our lines drawn so that we have the best use of our buildings and the fairest equity in terms of class sizes, particularly at the elementary school level?”

“You try to get the best prescription you can, particularly in terms of your enrollment projections and looking at the capacity of your buildings," he said.

He noted even when enrollment drops, a district will not hire fewer teachers unless there’s such a significant enough decrease that an entire class will be dropped.

Bozza pointed out it’s not unusual in a particular school to see a “bubble” class come through once in a while.

He said when there is a significant drop in enrollment and a district winds up hiring fewer teachers, “then you can take those resources and dedicate them perhaps to new technologies. A lot of times it’s facility repairs and other things that might have been delayed because the pocketbook couldn’t afford it.”

Bozza also noted when enrollment fluctuates, sometimes class sizes will be adjusted and parents may get upset.

“Typically school districts have lived through that issue over the years, and so they will set class size policy limits,” he said.

He added “the difficulty comes if your projections in the spring, after your budget is completed changes, and all of a sudden you have a lot of people and you have to create a section and you have to scramble around to find those resources.”

An analysis by South Jersey news site rtfortycom finds the school districts with the biggest declines in percentage of students since the 2010-11 school year are:

1. Avalon Boro, Cape May
2. Califon Boro, Hunterdon
3. Camden City, Camden
4. Saddle River Boro, Bergen
5. Bethlehem Township, Hunterdon
6. Fredon Township, Sussex
7. Milford Boro, Hunterdon
8. Knowlton Township, Warren
9. Wenonah Boro, Gloucester
10. Margate City, Atlantic

On Tuesday we’ll look at what happens when there’s a drastic drop in enrollment, and who gets affected the most.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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