BRICK – Enrollment is down in many Ocean County high schools, including Brick. Districtwide, enrollment has dropped some 18.3 percent between the years of 2007, when there were 10,714 students, to 2017, when there are 8,753, according to the Ocean County Department of Planning.
By way of comparison, in 2007, the total enrollment of students in Ocean County was 77,798. In 2017, total enrollment is 69,593.
The reason for the drop could be that the average age of the township’s population is going up, said Township Business Administrator Joanne Bergin. The median age has increased by more than 11 years over the past 35 years, she said.
“The children of Baby Boomers (Generation Y) who are now of childbearing age, are getting married later, having children later, and are the prime demographic of the newer developments in the apartments in the township, which not having a large impact on school enrollments,” she said in an email.
They also seem to be the generation that is moving back to the cities, and not choosing to live in the suburbs, she added.
Brick Township is more than 97 percent built out, and the majority of the undeveloped parcels here are environmentally constrained by wetlands, or are located in flood hazard areas, Bergin said, so there are few opportunities to build new single family housing.
Dennis Filippone, who is the acting superintendent of schools in Brick, said even though there has been a reduction in the student population, other costs are always increasing.
“If you compare costs in today’s dollars, there are a whole myriad of different programs, and there is a high percentage of a special education population, and a high percentage who have outside placements,” Filippone said.
“We have a higher percentage of classified students – significantly higher than the state average,” he said. “They require smaller classrooms and greater services, and it affects the budget in the district.”
Other factors impacting the school budget are fixed costs, such as utilities, which do not change with the student population; salaries and benefits of the district’s contractual employees, which increase every year; and a “significant amount of money that we spend on technology, which we need to spend,” Filippone said. Nearly every student in Brick has a laptop computer, he added.
Filippone said that the Brick school district is in the bottom 50 percent in spending, statewide, in per-pupil and administrative costs.
“We are one of the stingiest districts in New Jersey,” he said. “People will say, you’ve lost kids so the cost should be going down, but we look at what we spend, and we are careful not to increase taxes. We have only gone to the [state-mandated] two percent cap one time since it was instituted,” Filippone said.
“I believe we’re very, very fiscally responsible district,” he added. “If you look at other schools in New Jersey, you’ll know that.”
Other reasons for a declining student enrollment across not only Ocean County, but across the state, could be the cost of property taxes and the number people leaving New Jersey, said David Saemz, Public Information Officer for the State Department of Education.
“We produce the enrollment data, but we don’t analyze the societal and community aspects of it,” he said. “Whether or not it’s because of the cost of living, a lot of communities are experiencing declining enrollment.”
For example, Saemz said enrollment in Gloucester County schools is up, which could be the result of migration of families from Philadelphia, but in the nearby Cumberland and Salem counties, enrollment is down.
Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari, who, in 1969 started a 34-year career in Brick as a teacher, and eventually, principal at Veterans Memorial Elementary School, said that while he knows there has been a decrease in student enrollment in many of the schools in Ocean County, enrollment in the Ocean County Vocational and Technical Schools is up 23.4 percent since 2007.
“It’s because of the skills we teach, the trades, and the customized training,” he said.
Vicari said he had just received a report that shows that the 170,000 seniors living in Ocean County represent 29 percent of the population. In Berkeley and Manchester, seniors comprise 50 to 60 percent of the population.
Senior housing does not contribute to the school population, but up to 50 percent of their tax bill could go to school taxes, which many of the seniors cannot afford to pay, Vicari said.