Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Crunched for Space

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Crunched for Space

Article excerpt

HACKENSACK -- The city school district expects to lease a Catholic school that will close in June to get some relief from overcrowding, but officials say the building won't go far enough to meet long-term demands for classroom space.

The school district is seeing a spike in enrollment that is expected to continue for the next five years. School officials say they'll consider plans that could include redistricting, or buying or constructing a new building.

"We need to be preparing because according to our demographic study, the bump in population is still coming. So what we see now is just the beginning," said Angel Carrion, a school board trustee and member of its long-range planning committee.

In Hackensack, the number of students has been growing for the past six years, according to a March demographic study. The number went from 4,879 in 2007-08, to 5,409 students in the current school year. The rise in young students bucks a trend in the rest of Bergen County, where enrollment of young schoolchildren has plummeted.

Despite growth in the city, there has been a lack of long-range planning in the district, said interim Superintendent Joseph Abate. The state requires school districts to submit a long-range facilities plan every five years, but Abate said the last one was done eight years ago.

School board members blamed turnover in administration for the lack of a current plan.

"When you have a high turnover, it's very difficult to maintain a level of continuity," said Veronica Bolcik McKenna, president of the school board. "Some things will not move forward the way they should."

She said the schools were "bursting at the seams" and operating at or near maximum capacity.

Abate said the district struggled this school year because of high kindergarten enrollment. The district had to open two more kindergarten classes and hire aides for "just about every one of our [kindergarten] classes, expect at the Jackson Avenue School," he said.

Ed Ahearn said he was concerned that his son's kindergarten class at the Fanny M. Hillers School had 25 students this year.

"It's a big burden on the teacher to have to manage 25 5-year- olds," he said. "And it could take away from the children as far as learning."

But Ahearn said the teacher had done a "fantastic job" under tough circumstances. The classroom also has an aide until 11:30 a.m., he said.

The middle school numbers also jumped this year and included many mid-year transfers; 102 new students enrolled but only 22 left, Abate said.

In an apparent stroke of luck for city schools, the Archdiocese of Newark announced in February that it would close the Padre Pio school in Hackensack. The school board is expected to approve a five- year lease for the building at its next board meeting.

The district plans to house pre-kindergarten, the pre-K handicapped program, and two or three special-education kindergarten classes at the school, Abate said. …

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