While enrollment in Verona’s public schools is likely to grow in the next five years, it will not grow significantly. That was the conclusion of a report presented to the Verona Board of Education at Tuesday’s meeting.
Dr. Richard Grip, the executive director of the school demographics consulting firm Statistical Forecasting, was hired by Verona to analyze enrollment trends from the 2023-24 school year through 2027-28. He explored birth trends and population shifts that could result from new families moving to town, as well as the planned construction of two large housing developments. His report projects only 102 new students during the next five years, growth that would be far below the dire predictions made by some in town, including a sitting BOE member.
The report, which has been posted to the district’s website, says that there will be 44 new elementary school students, 30 new middle schoolers and just 28 new students at Verona High School through 2028. Grip’s data indicated that recent population growth, which has been moderate, has been centered on the area near F.N. Brown. A group of two-bedroom townhouses was built on Durrell Street in 2014 on the site of a former lumber yard, and five large single-family homes were built across the street. Some families also moved to the two-building Highlands at Hilltop development that opened a decade ago.
Verona is now looking at the possibility of two large developments in the next five years. Ninety-six units of affordable apartments will be built on the site of a former meat packing plant across from the Verona Community Center. Any elementary school children who live there would likely attend F.N. Brown, which is the elementary school with the largest enrollment currently. On the other side of town, about 200 luxury condos could be built at the corner of Bloomfield and Sunset avenues. Any students there would attend Brookdale Avenue School.
(Both projects are being facilitated by a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, agreement. While Verona schools get 55% of normal property tax revenues, they get nothing from the value of property improvements under PILOTs because almost everything goes to the town government. The BOE still, however, gets its normal share of the land tax.)
But Grip dispelled notions that the enrollments from the affordable development, which has been known as PIRL after its original developer and Cameco after the meat plant, would be as large as some have predicted. When Christopher Wacha was running for BOE in 2021, he asserted on his campaign website that there would be 150 new students from PIRL alone. Wacha, now a BOE member, spent much of Tuesday’s meeting scrolling through his cell phone and did not significantly challenge Grip’s conclusions.
BOE President Pam Priscoe, who works in the Community Center building, said that she felt that a three-bedroom apartment on the Cameco site could mean a family of three or more children. (The development will include one, two, and three bedroom units.) But Grip said that falling birthrates in our area and other factors mean that that is unlikely to happen. He said that his research indicates that only 1.087 children would be expected in a three-bedroom apartment. Grip also said that, while Verona has a growing Hispanic population, he did not expect that Verona would be a destination for the immigrant families now being sheltered in New York City.
Verona’s school enrollment is down sharply from its Baby Boom heyday, when families often had six or more children packed into one of our little houses. In the mid-1970s, each of the four grades at VHS had about 250 students in it. Now, the total enrollment at the high school is 642, with enrollment district-wide at about 2,147. Grip said that 84 students left the district for parochial, private and online schools during the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t come back. He also noted that, in the last decade, more students graduated from VHS than were replaced through kindergarten enrollments in seven out of nine years, which is known in demographic circles as negative replacement.
Grip’s report left open the possibility that Verona might have to reconfigure some buildings and classrooms to accommodate capacity increases in certain grades. He did not recommend any additional construction and Verona does not now have any building expansion in its facility plans.
You can watch Tuesday’s meeting here.