Enrollment numbers fall, but prospects look bright

Charts are from the NJ School Performace Report. https://rc.doe.state.nj.us/SearchForSchool.aspx

Over the past several years, the enrollment numbers at Eastern have been declining. In 2014, the school enrolled 2,011 students. By 2018, the numbers had dropped to 1,971.

   Although this is not ideal for the district, Dr. Tull said it is just a cycle.

   More and more families are staying in their homes after their children graduate high school and they are not having more kids. “Their little brothers aren’t there,” Tull said. Once this happens, there is a period of time where enrollment is low because there are fewer children cycling through the schools.

   Dr. Tull said that the community has a lot of families that are becoming “empty nesters,” meaning they are staying in their homes after their children graduate. When this happens, two situations could arise. Some families decide to sell their homes and new families with children move in and begin to populate the schools again or they do not sell and people cannot move into town.

   Housing and living prices have been increasing while wages remain relatively stagnant. This causes people to stay in their houses longer. It is cheaper to stay in their home instead of moving to a smaller housing situation.

   Dr. Tull said at the elementary school level there has been an expansion of enrollment. With the projected numbers of the elementary schools and the overcrowding at Osage Elementary School, in six or seven years the enrollment at Eastern should begin to increase.

   As of now, Eastern has 1,948 students and the school is steady in terms of enrollment. “We don’t need to hire anybody, and we can redistribute students to give them an opportunity to be their very best,” said Tull.

   Next year,  the school anticipates enrolling 496 eighth graders, an increase from the current 463 freshman. Berlin Community School has 102 graduating 8th graders. At Gibbsboro, 33 will graduate, but not all will be coming to Eastern. Some decide to attend private schools, like St. Augustine.

    Based on the number of students in each grade the school has to assess what teachers they have and how they can best suit the needs of the students, but the school has not seen a drop to this degree.

Due to this decline, the idea has been brought up to combine services with area schools. The idea of consolidating districts into K-12 has been around for awhile. In the past, towns in New Jersey were exempt from consolidation if they incorporated as “boroughs” rather than towns.

   Recently, Senate leader Steve Sweeney in his Task Force report propsed that smaller districts, like Gibbsboro, consolidate with larger districts, in order to save money. At an average of $8,780, New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the country. The average in Voorhees is $9,943.79. Gibbsboros average is $7,890.91. And in Berlin Borough the average is $7,323.80. The average tax in Berlin Township is $6,289.04

.   Eastern currently has one superintendent. Critics argue that one superintendent could be in charge of local elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools – like Cherry Hill. The state has the ability to decide this and there are arguments about whether  it is a positive or a negative.

   Dr. Tull said that he will allow politicians to worry about that. “Let’s focus on making sure we are doing what we need to do here,” he said.

   In the past, Eastern has shared a Spanish teacher with Berlin. Eastern could possibly share a French teacher with Gibbsboro. “Those are all options we are looking at as well,” said Tull.

   The best way to describe the problem with the drop in enrollment numbers is the industrial revolution. If you have machines that operate at capacity you can turn a profit, but for schools not reaching the numbers you eventually have to cut back on programs.

   Mrs. Palmer, the G/T teacher at Eastern, as well as a parent with one child currently enrolled in the school, moved to Voorhees for the integrity of the district. “Having worked with Eastern students in the past, I liked that it was a fully integrated school,” said Palmer. She has been a teacher for nineteen years and a resident of Voorhees for fifteen.

   The communities that feed into Eastern have socioeconomic variations in the community and the values of these communities are hard work, diversity, and spirit.

   Overall, Palmer is happy with her decision to move from Haddonfield to Voorhees and have both her children eventually complete their education in this district.

   What do people look for when buying a home?

  Mrs. Mary Ann Dodd, a realtor from Gibbsboro, said the community, the schools, and the location in general are the three most important things. According to Dodd, people always say, “location, location, location,”.

Charts are from the NJ School Performace Report.