As New Rochelle pursues the most ambitious downtown development plan in our history, it’s vital that we also carefully analyze and address the potential impacts of development to ensure that our whole community benefits from change.
When it comes to residential development in particular, the big question is: how will our schools be affected? As an elected official, taxpayer, and public school parent, I care a great deal about answering that question correctly.
To address the challenge, the City commissioned and recently received the results of a comprehensive study with several major components:
First, academic and planning experts used data provided by the School District to establish a baseline representing current demographic trends and illustrating space constraints at our various school buildings.
Second, the consultants estimated school enrollment likely to be generated by new development. To ensure that these projections were credible, a model was created based on multi-family housing of 10 units or more built since 2000 in the suburban counties surrounding New York. The resulting projections were then cross-checked against the actual student enrollment from the large apartment buildings recently built in downtown New Rochelle. This method yields as estimated 312 new students, if our downtown development plans are fully realized. (To put that number in perspective, there are presently about 11,000 kids in the New Rochelle schools.)
Third, student enrollment projections were layered on top of the demographic baseline and then broken up by school zone. The resulting school-specific projections were compared to each school’s physical capacity to determine whether and when “tipping points” would be reached that might require school expansion or some other capital investment. For this last purpose, to be safe, the consultants bumped up their student enrollment estimate by 20%.
This entire exercise is aimed at producing one simple number: the “fair share” financial contribution that developers will be required to pay to cover the School District’s development-related expenses and, at a minimum, hold taxpayers harmless for educational costs.
The City had already established a policy of requiring development to pay the marginal service costs for new students – that is, teachers, staff, programming, etc. What’s new here is the effort to capture infrastructure costs, as well.
It’s important to keep in mind that this entire methodology is very conservative. In all likelihood, the School District will receive far more revenue from new development than it will expend in additional educational costs. Commercial development, for example, generates no students. And even in the case of residential development, this process is designed only to establish the minimum payment. Higher payments are probable.
Along with our development plan as a whole, the school analysis is still being reviewed, and we want to be sure that the School District itself has a full opportunity to weigh in. But I am pleased by the professionalism of the report. It demonstrates a comprehensive and forward-looking approach, and it addresses one of the key concerns residents have expressed when considering prior developments in New Rochelle.