Following an official presentation of a demographer's report on the Great Neck Public Schools and its attendance zones, it was clear that the report by Ross Haber Associates, Inc. reinforced the preliminary plan of a few months ago to continue the optional zone for secondary schools. Superintendent of Schools Ronald Friedman briefly reviewed the over-crowding problem at the south schools and the district's subsequent plan last year to allow students entering grades six through 12, who lived in specific northern most areas of Great Neck to choose North instead of South.
Dr. Friedman stated that the demographer's report, commissioned last year, "absolutely" supports the district's optional zone. Dr. Friedman added that "there was nothing surprising" in the report and that it was a very good recommendation to continue the optional zone for next year. He noted that open houses would once again be offered at the secondary schools to help parents and students make their decisions.
Mr. Haber presented an overview of his report, explaining that he had studied the issue by looking at the information with and without the optional zones, and he looked at enrollment trends. First, enrollments were compared, with the goal to keep South High under the 1300 to 1350 number. The report states that: "As a result of the growing disparity in the enrollment between North and South High School a redistricting took place during the 1984-1985 school year. More than 20 years later, in the Spring of 2008, the board needed to deal with finding a remedy to the increasing enrollment at Great Neck South High School."
Next, community demographics were discussed. Regarding ethnic trends for the 1980-1981 through the 2008-2009 school years, the numbers prove that: "The Asian population of the Great Neck Schools has risen from 2.8 percent during the 1980-1981 school year to 24.4 percent during the current school year. The white population has decreased from 88.7 percent to 66.3 percent. The African American enrollment has declined, while the Hispanic enrollment increased through the start of this decade and has leveled off." The report adds that "A factor in the disparity in the enrollment of the high schools is attributable to the fact that the growing Asian population has, for the most part, settled in the attendance zones South High School and Middle School."
Addressing students in Kindergarten through 12th grade, who are living in Great Neck and attend private and parochial schools, the findings are as follows: "There are currently 7,814 students of school age residing in Great Neck. Of these, 1,595 attend private or parochial schools, the greatest percentage of who attend the North Shore Hebrew Academy." The parochial school enrollment has been stable during the past seven years. However, there was some discussion as to whether or not the current economic crisis will impact on private/parochial school enrollment. Mr. Haber said that usually you do not see a parochial school enrollment decline even in difficult economic times.
Mr. Haber then discussed factors impacting high school enrollment. The report says that about 60 percent of the students in the school district live in the south attendance zone and since the 1993-94 school year South High has shown greater growth than North High. During the summer of 2007 more than 80 new students enrolled in south High, increasing the disparity between the two schools and when school opened in September 2007 there were 1,307 students at South High. Subsequently, after much discussion and study, the optional zone was implemented as of September 2008, and with students taking advantage of the optional zone the South High opening number was 1,337.
Additionally, there was some concern that some of the increased enrollment had been caused by students enrolling in the school district who are not Great Neck residents, "in spite of the steps that were in place for proof of residence." Dr. Friedman emphasized that a new registrar has been vigilant in following up on possible enrollment of non-residents.
The report then turns to "remedies considered and remedies implemented", and states, that after the problems with the burgeoning enrollment at South High, in the fall of 2007 it became apparent to the district that they needed to take steps to keep the South High enrollment at or below the 1300 to 1350 number. The district explored the possibility of some reconfiguration of space at South High and this did provide more classroom space.
Also the district then worked to find ways to have more students attend North High. The board of education was keen to avoid any hard redistricting and so they arrived at the optional zone, which did attract 27 students to the north secondary schools for this school year.
In addition to the optional zone, the district then hired the professional registrar; these services were supported by legal counsel and a detective agency "to aggressively pursue all residency questions and doubts." And the district then hired the demographer to assess the fist year of the optional attendance zone and to make recommendations for future board consideration.
The "heart and soul" of the demographic study, according to Mr. Haber, is the "findings." Here the report includes a table showing the projected enrollment for both high schools with and without the optional zone. The projection indicates that with the optional zone, North High will increase its enrollment, and by the 2012-2013 school year this enrollment will top 1,000. Conversely, South High enrollment will decrease, and by the 2012-2013 school year will have an enrollment below the targeted 1,300.
Mr. Haber said that the recommendations for the 2009-210 school year include continuing the optional zone area and continuing to offer opportunities to encourage students to take advantage of the north option. He also recommended that the school district continue "the diligent enforcement of residency requirements including the continued use of legal and administrative means to make sure that the enrollment of South High School (and of course the remainder of the district as well) is not being inflated by non-residents."
In closing, Mr. Haber reviewed his overall enrollment projects, predicting pretty "flat" enrollment numbers. District-wide, enrollment, going from the 2002-2003 school year (5799 students) to the 2008-2009 school year (6219), there was a 7.24 percent increase. Jumping to the 2013-2014 school year, the prediction is for 6295 students, only a 1.22 percent increase.
Commenting on the demographic report, Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz stated that the board, and the administration, is constantly re-evaluating. "When we do something, we study it and continue to study," she said.
Dr. Friedman added that this whole process worked, thanks to communications "and a willingness to continue" the work.
The district hopes to have all optional zone requests for next year in place by Feb. 13, before the upcoming school vacation week.