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War of The Worlds Began Here
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Good evening. My name is Stan Katz, I live at 7 Rumford Way, and I’m here tonight, as liaison from the Board of Education, to present you with some numbers that, I hope, will be useful to you in your deliberations about the plans for the redevelopment around the Princeton Junction train station, also known as the “Transit Village”.

Demographics Handout (PDF)

Before I begin, I want to make one thing extremely clear: the purpose of this presentation is neither to oppose, nor to promote, the concept of a Transit Village in West Windsor. My purpose, and that of the School Board, is to make sure that everyone in a decision-making position has sufficient information to make an informed decision on the important issue of how to estimate the number of school children that might be generated from various amounts of housing in a West Windsor Transit Village.

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Why should you, or your planning consultants, listen to anything I have to say, and by extension, anything the local School Board has to say? Well, I guess I need to present my own credentials. From an academic viewpoint, I have a B.A. in economics from Johns Hopkins University, and a Ph.D. in applied economics from the University of Pennsylvania. I taught a statistics course at Penn while I was a graduate student there, and I developed forecast models for the Penn Central and for the New York Stock Exchange before I became a “quant”-type trader on the American Stock Exchange floor for more than 20 years.

Of course, many others have good academic and business qualifications as well. But I believe I have special expertise when it comes to developing numbers for West Windsor. Why? Because as the senior member of the West Windsor Plainsboro Board of Education, for the past 10 years I have devoted my statistical expertise to the analysis of West Windsor and Plainsboro housing patterns, developing both short-term and long-term forecasts for the school district. During those ten years, I presented two papers to the townships, one in 1997 and one in 2002, which analyzed the tendencies of various types of housing to put children into the West Windsor Plainsboro public school system. For all intents and purposes, I have been the de facto demographer for the township for the past ten years. And if one cares to look back over the numbers we’ve developed, and the forecasts that came out of them, you will find that they have been gratifyingly accurate.

So, in short, I believe I am at least as qualified as any other demographer, if not more so, to interpret West Windsor’s local data for the purpose of estimating the potential effects that various housing plans might have on our school population. And unlike some of the reports that were given to some of our neighboring towns (which were based on numbers from still other towns), I can, and will, give you the LOCAL underlying rationales for my numbers. The use of generalized statewide tendencies to generate forecasts for a community as different as West Windsor is from those statewide norms would be a terrible mistake, and the recent experience of our neighbor, Washington Township, should be a vivid example of this for you.

While we are obviously promoting your acceptance of our methodology, as opposed to using forecasts based on broad statewide tendencies, you should never take any forecast at face value, unless the presenter can deliver a coherent rationale for his numbers. You have all seen my critique of the Rutgers Study numbers, and I don’t want to waste time tonight repeating those issues. Simply put, I don’t believe the Rutgers Study is relevant to West Windsor. On the other hand, I won’t ask you to accept our numbers as gospel, but I do expect you to consider the specific facts and the rationales behind them, compare them to anything else you might hear from others, and come to your own conclusions.

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The big question, of course, is this: given a housing component of any given type and any given quantity for a proposed Transit Village in West Windsor, how many public school children can we expect it to generate, and in what years? And the second question, following from the first, is this: will the existing schools be able to house those additional children when they come along, or will additional schools need to be built?

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Let’s start with where we are now. As you are all certainly aware, we are about two-thirds of the way through the construction of the largest development in West Windsor history, the single family homes, condominiums, and apartment houses of the Toll Brothers project. As of the end of December, the total of COs for this project was 893 of a total 1166 to be built. In addition, the second set of apartments in what is now called Windsor Woods West was completed this summer after a delay of several years.

As of October 15 of this school year, the WWP School District had a K-12 seat count of just about 9500 students, with a short-term forecast of about 9550 students for next year. We originally thought that would be pretty much a peak, but due to new considerations concerning the Axelrad property development, we now believe the peak will occur in 2009 at a little over 9600 students, and then begin a very slow decline to what we call a steady-state equilibrium of around 8300 students in about 12 years.

Buried deep in all these numbers is a question mark that the District has struggled with for several years, but which we are now finally starting to get a good handle on. For years, we were aware that our Affordable Housing multi-family units put significantly more students into the schools per unit than do market-rate units, but it was difficult to quantify the difference with any confidence because our sample size was too small. In the past few years, however, as more of our new developments contained Affordable Housing components, we have been able to get a better handle on the difference.

It turns out that the difference is significant, and our forecast models have been adjusted to reflect that difference. Both the apartments at Windsor Woods West and the Mews at Toll Brothers (those are the apartment units) are coming in at the 0.3- 0.5 students per unit range, compared to the district-wide market-rate average for apartments of a little more than 0.2 students per unit. In addition, the condominium developments that contain Affordable Housing elements also show consistently higher students per unit than their market-rate only counterparts, 0.35-0.7 per unit compared to 0.3-0.5 for the latter.

At this point I need to talk about what makes developments go to either the high end or the low end of these ranges. Oddly, it is NOT the number of bedrooms in these units that is the dominating factor, but rather the somewhat nebulous concept of “child friendliness” of the development.

For example, Barclay Square in Plainsboro is a new townhouse development with large units that, by all logic, should produce a large number of students. But its location, on the west side of Route 1, is relatively remote, and there are very few amenities that would entice families with school-age children to buy there. In a school district where such townhouses should produce about 0.35 children per unit, Barclay Square produces only half that number, around 0.18 per unit. On the other hand, developments such as Brittany and Hampshire, which feature such items as playgrounds, tennis courts, and fenced-in yards, as well as much more centralized locations, produce 0.82 and 0.71 pupils per unit.

The same is true in West Windsor. Colonnade and Canal Point, both on the west side of Route 1, produce two of the lowest student rates in the township, 0.08 and 0.24 respectively, and even there the difference between Canal Point’s facilities and those of Colonnade probably drive the difference between the two rates. On the other hand, the new Toll Brothers townhouses, with access to much better facilities, are already producing over a half a student per unit. The pattern is not perfect, of course, but the trend is clearly observable.

In any event, because we had not yet incorporated these findings into last year’s forecast for the school district, which incorporated forecasts for both new Windsor Woods West units and the Toll Brothers apartments and condominiums, we were more than 50 students too low. This was certainly not a tragedy, since most of the schools are not yet operating at their maximum capacities, but it means that there needed to be some revision of both our peak expectation and our steady-state equilibrium numbers, and the new numbers are those I gave you earlier in this presentation.

That was the bad news: our current forecast was a bit low. The GOOD news, however, is that we finally have a handle on the best coefficients to use for estimating the effects of new multi-family housing in West Windsor (and probably in Plainsboro as well). Simply put:

1) take the number of units proposed;

2) if the units are condominiums and/or townhouses, and the development contains Affordable Housing units, multiply the number of units by 0.35 and 0.7 to estimate the  low and high range of additional school children which would be generated by the new housing;

3) if the units are condominiums and/or townhouses, and the development does not contain Affordable Housing units, multiply the number of units by 0.3 and 0.5 to estimate the low and high range of additional school children which would be generated by the new housing;

4) if the units are apartments, and the development contains Affordable Housing units, multiply the number of units by 0.3-0.5 to estimate the low and high range of additional school children which would be generated by the new housing;

5) if the units are apartments, and the development does not contain Affordable Housing units, multiply the number of units by 0.2 to estimate the additional school children which would be generated by the new housing.

And finally, 6) if the development is expected to include amenities which would lead to its being classified as “child friendly”, use the higher end of the stated range; if the amenities are such that one would not classify the development as “child friendly”, use the lower end of the range.

Okay, let’s apply this to the Transit Village, which is, of course, the reason for this presentation to you tonight. As I understand it from the people I have been talking to, several assumptions can be made at this point that can probably help us create a logical number to use for any proposal which results from the charrettes. If any of these assumptions are incorrect, you can still use the procedure I just described to create a new number, but let’s look at one combination just to see how the numbers play out:

First, let’s assume that any housing in the project will be either condominiums or townhouses, and will be sold directly to owners, rather than rented through a corporation. Second, there will be an affordable housing component. Putting these two expectations together, we should be using the 0.35 – 0.7 range for townhouses and condominiums with an affordable housing component. Note that if this assumption in wrong, and the housing consists of apartment units, the range drops to 0.3 – 0.5, so using this higher condominium-townhouse range is, in effect, a worst-case scenario.

For the third and final element, I have been led to understand that transit village developments by and large do NOT have the traditional elements that would make them “child friendly”. Although at this stage of planning we are assuming a completely blank slate, I think it would probably make sense to assume that there will be a deliberate lack of such amenities as playgrounds, tennis courts, swimming pools, and the like. If that becomes the reality, I would have no problem with using the extreme low end of the range, that is, 0.35 children per unit, as the best estimate.

If the assumption regarding a lack of child-friendliness is wrong, however, we are talking about much higher figures, from 0.5 for apartments to 0.7 for townhouses, and it is incumbent upon everyone in a decision-making position to understand this.

But let’s stick with the original assumptions: townhouses, an affordable housing component, and amenities that are not child-friendly. How would this translate into specific numbers, and what do those numbers mean for the school system in terms of its capacity to handle whatever is generated? Let’s take, for example, two possibilities for the proposed Transit Village; a plan to include 500 townhouse units, and one which included 1500 such units.

The 500-unit development would probably generate, using our assumptions made previously, about 175 students. In that case, even if the units were occupied as early as 2010, when the district should have about the same 9500 students it has today, the total student count would be about 9700, which would not put any unreasonable strain on the district as a whole, since our nominal capacity is somewhere around 9800 students.

A 1500-unit development, however, would probably generate around 525 students. In such a case, it could matter very much when the units came on line. If they were occupied before that same 2010 date, the system would have over 10,000 students, and the school district would not be able to accommodate these students without building at least two new schools (one elementary, and one upper elementary/middle school at a bare minimum). For a 1500-unit complex, the earliest that the current schools could accommodate the 525 expected new students would be around 2012 or 2013.

Thus the question: does there exist a maximum number of units that could be built without creating the expectation that a new school would have to be built? The answer is yes, but the figure changes depending on the expected timing of the completion of the project. If the development were built before, say, 2010, when the District’s “all-other” student population was still around the 9500 level (including Akselrad, but nothing else), almost anything over 800 units (i.e., 280 students) would probably create a need to build at least one new school. But if the development did not become reality until around 2014-2015, when the long-run forecast predicts a student population of about 8800 (again including Akselrad, but nothing else), then perhaps even a 2000-unit project, with its projection of 700 additional students, could probably be built without requiring any new school construction.

I know I’ve been inundating you with numbers and assumptions here, but let me add one additional caveat: all these numbers refer to the district as a whole, not to individual schools. The school district currently has a policy that all K-3 students will attend schools in their own township. Therefore, all the K-3 students who would be generated by a West Windsor transit village would be slated to attend West Windsor elementary schools, that is, Hawk and Dutch Neck. These schools, however, will not be losing spaces as quickly as the schools in Plainsboro because of the influx from Axelrad. So even though the district as a whole could accommodate the children from a transit village, the issue of where to put the K-3 children becomes an issue at much lower numbers. I don’t want to use the “R” word in polite (or political!) company, but the sooner the Transit Village comes to fruition, the more likely it is that some changes would have to be made, either in school board policy or school construction. In the long run, timing may become a more critical issue than the numbers.

That concludes my presentation to you. Once again, my purpose tonight is neither to lobby for, nor against, any specific proposal. All I want to do is give you what I believe, and what the School Board believes, are the best formulas for you to use in making your estimations, and to give you the REASONS why we believe that those formulas are the relevant ones for West Windsor (and, of course, for Plainsboro as well, which certainly has a stake in the future of the school system).

I thank you for your indulgence in listening to what I am sure, for many of you, was probably more detail than you really wanted to hear. The effect on the school district will be, of course, only a single component in your deliberations and decisions on the Transit Village issue, but I expect that for many people it will be one that is accorded a very high priority.

Finally, in closing, I just want to remind you that, as the school district’s official liaison to this Council, I am always available for further discussions.

Thanks.

 


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