The Vernon Township School District Board of Education is considering pressing pause on the sale of the Walnut Ridge School and only market it as a short-term lease, based on a recommendation by Assistant Superintendent Charles McKay at last Thursday’s work session.
McKay said he believes Vernon Township is seeing an increase in population growth as people migrate out of cities and into the suburbs. Many companies are making this possible by allowing employees to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I agree with that,” said board member Kelly Mitchell, a realtor with Weichert Realtors. “I was one of the big proponents of putting Walnut Ridge on the market. And then Covid happened. I believe if that had not happened, we’d be in a different situation.”
McKay said the district’s kindergarten classes averaged about 204 students over a five-year period starting with the 2015-16 school year. This year, the district has 164 kindergartners and there are rises in grades 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 11, and 12. Last year, the district had 226 kindergartners, which could indicate parents are waiting an extra year to send their kids to kindergarten in 2021-22.
“My thought is they’re possibly holding their kindergartners back a year,” McKay said.
Mitchell said a report shows that 295 homes were closed on in Vernon Township through Aug. 31, with 150 homes under contract as the pandemic has slowed down the mortgage process.
“There’s a huge difference between what’s being closed now and what’s being closed last year,” Mitchell said. “We’re not allowed to talk about the demographic and whether there are children in the homes, but you can say to yourself, ‘if there’s just one child in those homes,’ our enrollment should go up.”
School board president Justin Annunziata said the district is still saving money by moving students out of Walnut Ridge but agreed they should explore pausing the sale.
“I think it’s logical that we don’t get a long-term decision about our facilities wrong,” he said.
Annunziata asked board secretary Steve Kepnes whether the district could direct their broker to withdraw Walnut Ridge for sale and market it as a short-term lease.
Kepnes said he will speak to the district’s attorney.
“I feel there’s a two-fold piece to Walnut Ridge,” Mitchell said. “It’s the enrollment piece, but it’s also a social distance piece. If Glen Meadow is overcrowded, we have a place to space things out when we get everybody back in.”
“We’re not allowed to talk about the demographic and whether there are children in the homes, but you can say to yourself, ‘if there’s just one child in those homes,’ our enrollment should go up.” --Kelly Mitchell