Local school districts struggle with declining enrollment

Fewer students mean loss of revenue
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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When Gordon Medd became vice principal of Heritage Oak Elementary School in 1991, the school had 350 students. Three years later, the population increased to 950. But the Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District projects that same school to have only 571 students for the upcoming school year. Medd, now the district’s assistant superintendent of administrative services, says Heritage Oak’s loss of students reflects a growing trend of declining enrollment in schools throughout Roseville and Granite Bay. Declining enrollment means loss of revenue. This means decreased operating budgets and, in some cases, deficit spending, furlough days, school closures and teacher layoffs. Three of four local school districts have been hit hard by declining or stagnant enrollment in recent years, including Dry Creek, Eureka Union School District and Roseville Joint Union High School District. Only Roseville City School District — with close to 10,000 students — has been able to steadily increase its student population an average of 3 percent annually for the past five years. “We have not had any decline in enrollment and we are not concerned with declining enrollment like neighboring districts,” said Julie Olson, assistant superintendent of business services. Medd attributes enrollment loss to the area’s aging population and slowed development compared to the last decade’s housing boom. For instance, while more than 1,700 residential building permits were issued within the Dry Creek district’s boundaries nine years ago, a mere 37 were issued in 2008-09. “We’re aging out quicker than we are bringing in new families,” Medd said. “Who buys new houses? Young families. These families aren’t young anymore.” Some 7,243 kids attended one of Dry Creek’s 10 elementary and middle schools this year, but that number will likely lower to 6,869 next year. That’s a loss of nearly 400 kids, which impacts revenue by about $2 million. Dry Creek expects to continue to lose 200 students a year through matriculation, which means 8th graders who head into high school — the district projects 645 new kindergarteners and 868 8th graders this year. Fewer children are coming out of the same number of homes, which school districts call the yield rate. That’s how school districts project future enrollment numbers. For instance, the once-new homes built in the area near Heritage Oak Elementary School are now more than 20 years old. Meanwhile, the price of houses around there has skyrocketed, Medd said. “Even when these families move out, new families can’t move in because they can’t afford it,” Medd said. “Granite Bay is the perfect example.” While Dry Creek’s enrollment has slowly declined, Eureka Union School District's has plummeted. The district — with schools in Granite Bay and Roseville — has faced falling enrollment for the past six years. The school board responded, in part, by closing Eureka School last year. The district expects an increase drop in students from 4.81 percent this year to 6.17 percent for 2010-11. The district projects 3,303 students for the upcoming school year, according to Rick Schrichfield, assistant superintendent for human resources. Roseville Joint Union High School District had 9,853 students this past school year and anticipates 9,999 students this fall. That’s a 1.48 percent increase, down from a 3.35 percent increase the prior year. The district expects to increase by only 171 students in the next three years. As for the Dry Creek district, Medd said the “saving grace” down the road involves growth in Antelope. Medd said Dry Creek isn’t close to considering school closures to address declining enrollment, one reason being this doesn’t end up resulting in major cost savings. He said the smallest schools in the district have between 500 and 900 kids — more than most elementary schools in Placer County. Meanwhile, districts are scrambling to figure out long-term solutions to a broken state education finance system that relies on fluctuating sources of income — considered the root cause for school district’s financial woes. “(Declining enrollment) wouldn’t be a problem if funding wasn’t tied to that,” said Melody Glaspey, chief business officer for the Eureka district. “Because funding is tied to enrollment, when you lose students, you lose money faster than you’re able to cut expenses.” State funding to education was cut from $50.3 billion in 2007-08 to $44.6 billion this past school year. California ranks 41st of the 50 states in per-pupil spending. In California, about 60 percent of a school district’s operating funds come from the state, generated by business and personal income taxes, sales taxes and other taxes. The money is allocated to districts based, in large part, on the average number of students attending school, otherwise known as average daily attendance. The other 40 percent comes from local property taxes, the federal government, state lottery and contributions from foundations, businesses and other miscellaneous fees. A coalition of education groups filed a lawsuit against the state of California in May requesting that the education finance system be declared unconstitutional and another one be established in its place. “Clearly the system is broken, without question,” Medd said. Sena Christian can be reached at ---------- Enrollment numbers for local school districts Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District: 7,243 students in 2009-10, 6,869 projected for 2010-11 Eureka Union School District: 3,520 students in 2009-10, 3,303 projected for 2010-11 Roseville City School District: 9,576 students in 2009-10, 9,815 projected for 2010-11 Roseville Joint Union High School District: 9,853 students in 2009-10, projected 9,999 for 2010-11