The amount of students enrolled in the Toms River Regional Schools is shrinking in the state’s fourth largest district, and the superintendent points to factors as home values and cost of living as having a possible impact.
The enrollment of Toms River Regional Schools is now about 800 fewer students than about six years ago, officials said. Staffing, however, has remained level.
Still the fourth-largest school district in New Jersey, Toms River Regional once had as many as 18,000 students enrolled in the district, Superintendent Frank Roselli said at the July board of education meeting.
“Years ago it was as high as 18,000. It’s dwindling, to I’d say 17,300 now, somewhere in that ballpark,” Roselli said.
The superintendent said the decrease could be due in part to the cost of living in Toms River.
“It’s a function of the economy. It’s pretty hard for a newlywed couple to find a home in Toms River. Even though prices coming down, the trend is, they are moving out of state,” Roselli said.
He said Southern Ocean County’s cost of living is less than Toms River’s or in the three other towns that make up Toms River Regional.
“They are going south, down to Barnegat,” said Roselli. “It’s hard to find a home in our four regional communities.”
According to district records, combined enrollment in Barnegat schools has hovered around 3,300 students for the last year and a half, with little change in either direction. In June, it stood at 3,295, six students fewer than the same time last year.
Martin Lisella, a Barnegat Township Committeeman and a local realtor, said Barnegat’s population is growing – about 50 to 75 new housing units are built in the township each year, he said. But it’s getting harder to fill them, and only a small portion of those moving in are families with school-age children.
Most of Barnegat’s current housing construction is in senior developments, Lisella said. “The building of single family homes that aren’t age-restricted is so minimal right now,” he said.
Jim Flanagan, a realtor for Crossroads Realty based in Toms River, disagrees that housing is unaffordable in Toms River.
“I respectfully disagree...Housing prices in Toms River have now dropped to 2003 price levels. Adding to the contrary, mortgage interest rates are still at historic lows,” he said.
The impact might be from families who want to move to the area, but are having a hard time selling their homes, he said.
“Where the real estate market in Toms River may be a factor concerning enrollment could lie in the inability/difficulty of families, from outside of Toms River, to sell their homes and subsequently buy in Toms River,” Flanagan said. “We are not seeing an exodus to leave the state, town or county. Toms River continues to lead the county in sales of single family homes month after month.”
Toms River’s homes sales are involving distressed properties, he added. This could be part of the equation, he said.
“Another factor that may need to be explored is the affect of short sales and foreclosures on enrollment. Approximately 30 percent of all re-sales in Toms River this year have been ‘distressed properties. ‘ Where are these families moving to? Are they renting? Are they moving in with family? And, if so, where?
Some younger couples are moving to Barnegat Township, Lisella said, but because the job market remains poor in south Jersey, few are buying and few are having kids.
That could mean Barnegat will start seeing enrollment slip as graduating class sizes shrink, Lisella said. “If 250 kids don’t move in every year, you’re kind of losing your population in the schools,” he said.
It’s not just a Barnegat problem, said Lisella. The same situation is playing out across much of southern New Jersey, as people examine cost of living expenses and taxes and decide to try their luck elsewhere.
“It’s a jigsaw puzzle,” he said. “You don’t know what to fix first.”