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School Enrollment Down, Cost of Living Discussed as Factor

Realtors, Superintendent weigh in

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.”

walt tupycia August 07, 2011 at 08:26 PM
i guess he does not want to lose money from the state.
Jim Flanagan August 07, 2011 at 08:29 PM
Mr./Ms. Billabong (as I assume that is your real name); I appreciate your interest in my needs, however,, here is the "source" of my interpretation of the term "affordability"; http://kcmblog.com/2010/02/22/the-silver-lining-in-today%E2%80%99s-cloudy-market/ And yes, we REALTORS will find the "Silver Lining" in this market just as you choose to "push" the "doom & gloom". May I be so bold as to inquire what your definition of "most" is? Thank you.
Billabong August 08, 2011 at 11:07 AM
Mr. Flanagan, according to your source: "The HOI showed that 70.8 percent of all new and existing homes sold in the final quarter of 2009 were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,000, slightly higher than the previous quarter and near the record-high 72.5 percent set during the first quarter of 2009. Affordability during the final quarter of the year was up from 62.4 percent during the fourth quarter of 2008." Those numbers are national numbers that cannot be directly applied to Toms River. There is no way a family earning the median income of $64,000 in Toms River can afford many of the new and existing homes even in this economy. As a commission-based career, I expect realtors to find the silver lining in any market (you have to make a living after all). But as a buyer, I could care less about your needs — my needs are the priority (for customer service industries, client needs should come first). As a local buyer I don't want to hear national median salary averages. I view affordability as a combination of household salary, debt, credit history, and an ability to earn a interest rate and mortgage that can be paid on schedule, among other factors. I feel it's best to look for a realtor who has my best interests at heart and is willing to work with me to find a property I can truly afford (with my personal economics in mind) rather to sell me on properties that national figures state are affordable.
Karl Hess August 08, 2011 at 12:20 PM
According to NJAR: The first quarter 2011 New Jersey Home Sales Report revealed the Affordability Index reached 151.1 which is the highest level it’s reached in our state in over 10 years. The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ (NAR) affordability index formula accounts for many variables that contribute to the cost of home buying, including home price, mortgage rates, payment as a percentage of income, median family income, qualifying income, and monthly Principal and Interest (P&I) payments. In addition, the report provides median sales prices of existing single family homes in N.J. which is $280,900 for the first quarter. The seasonally adjusted figure for resale activity in the state is 109,500 units. The report also breaks down the data by county and regions (south, central, north)...for Ocean County the median sales price is $242,000, down from 243K a year ago. Home sales are up over 11% in Ocean County. For Toms River the statistics are a little more gloomy: Total home sales are down 15.56% in comparison to last year. See the report here: http://www.njar.com/research_statistics/pdf/quarterly_stats/2011Q1.pdf
Billabong August 08, 2011 at 04:31 PM
Martin, I agree but the way I see it - "affordability" is an inaccurate term to use. Just because housing prices may be at seven- to eight-year lows, does not make them affordable. Affordability is more accurately tied to households' financial situations. Your points are valid but I'd like to add that in the Toms River area there are a lot of young families. That struggle to earn a decent living not only includes outrageous NJ taxes and insurance fees but don't forget the high cost of childcare. A family with one to two children in full-day care are looking at $1,000-$2,000 per month in fees. In this economy it's a wonder anyone can afford a mortgage and childcare costs...even for a modest $200k house with a low interest rate.

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