Red Bank led all 623 school districts statewide in Hispanic student enrollment growth from 2000 to 2006, according to a report in today’s Star-Ledger.

An analysis by the state’s largest newspaper found that 57.9 percent of students in the Red Bank schools are today Hispanic, up 32.8 percent in the past six years.

Not coincidentally, Red Bank also led the state in terms of percentage decrease in African-American student enrollment, to 28.3 percent of the total, a drop of 26.7 percent in six years.

In three of the cities cited in the article¬óRed Bank, New Brunswick and Plainfield¬ó”Hispanic children are actually replacing the black population in the schools,” the Ledger reports.

Instead of simply looking at data from the last census, taken in 2000, Ledger data guru Robert Gebeloff and reporter Mary Jo Patterson used enrollment data compiled each year by every school district. While the numbers don’t necessarily give an accurate snapshot of a town’s present racial and ethnic makeup, they do “indicate where a town is headed, since young families with children are often at the core of community life,” the Ledger reported.

The data sharply underscore entwined trends that some local officials, including Mayor-elect Pasquale Menna, have identified as a matter of concern. One is the rapid shrinkage in Red Bank’s old-line African-American population, which has largely been based on the West Side of town; the other is the burgeoning of an immigrant Hispanic populace, in part because of unscrupulous landlords.

Soaring real estate values, observers say, have enticed many black homeowners to cash out their equity and head to lower-cost regions. At the same time, absentee landlords are turning a blind eye to local ordinances and packing their properties with Hispanic families eager to share limited space to keep rental costs down.

One result is a wholesale change to the makeup of the primary, middle and charter-school student body.

Departing Mayor Ed McKenna told redbankgreen recently that he believes the Hispanic population in town is about to “stabilize” as a result of stiffening enforcement of building-code and housing ordinances.

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