County school chiefs weigh in on declining enrollment
Declining enrollment in California’s public schools has caused education expert and lobbyist Brian Cooley to spend much of his time traveling across the state.
Cooley drove to Placerville Tuesday where he spoke and listened to 13 of the county’s 15 superintendents on the phenomenon gripping roughly one-third of the state’s 1,100 school districts.
The member of the Sacramento County Board of Education who is learning about decreased enrollment spent nearly two hours with county education officials. Board members and administrators with Lake Tahoe Unified School District, which has the worst hemorrhaging of students in the county, took part by video conferencing.
Seven of El Dorado’s 15 school districts are in decline, said Vicki Barber, superintendent of county schools. The worst case is LTUSD. Districts on the outer boundary or eastern edge of the county are also experiencing declining enrollment, she said.
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Yet the decline is countered by other districts that are growing. The county has roughly 1,000 more students than a decade ago when enrollment was 28,420.
The meeting began with LTUSD Interim Superintendent Lorraine Garcy providing the number of students lost per year. The largest decrease was 323 students since last year while more than 200 are projected to be gone next year.
“That’s huge,” Cooley said.
What followed was a brief rundown of districts with similar problems. Causes include the slowdown of agriculture and logging businesses, demographic shifts or the burgeoning costs of housing along the coast, forcing families inland.
Since Cooley has the ear of some legislators in Sacramento, Barber made a laundry list of concerns associated with declining enrollment. The hope was to find legislative solutions for the problems.
Barber also is on the steering committee for California Declining Enrollment Schools Alliance with eight other California county superintendents.
One legislative request wish was to lower the approval rate of a parcel tax from two-thirds to 55 percent. Assemblyman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, tried to lower the passage point but the attempt was struck down during the legislative process.
Steve Morales, district facilities manager, requested help in obtaining more money, or market value, when leasing or renting surplus property. The difficulty lies in the Civic Center Act, which limits leasing public school buildings to public agencies or nonprofit entities at minimal cost. The act also restricts where revenue from the leased property is able to go.
Near the bottom of the list was a concern raised by board member Madeline Fernald on the emergence of charter schools and their influence on districts with declining enrollment.
One off-site charter school, Visions in Education, already exists in the district and has more than 10 students. A group of parents is moving forward with a proposal for a charter school at the Meyers site to open next fall.
The board is expected to address whether to approve the charter for Lake Tahoe Community Academy next month.
– E-mail William Ferchland at firstname.lastname@example.org
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