District losing students | TahoeDailyTribune.com

District losing students

There are fewer apples on teachers’ desks these days.

The Lake Tahoe Unified School District is experiencing a decline in student enrollment for the fifth straight school year. High housing prices and a sluggish economy have pushed young families from South Lake Tahoe.

The district receives $4,600 for each student based on Average Daily Attendance, said Joe White, the former chief financial officer for the district.

At one point, the district expected to lose about 207 students next school year, which amounts to a loss of $952,200 in unrestricted dollars, White said.

The current forecast has the district expecting to lose 175 students which equals a loss of $805,000.

That money is part of the 70 percent revenue limit which usually pays for things such as teacher salaries, utility costs and other operating expenses, White said.

“We’re now looking at our numbers and we don’t think we’ll lose the 207 but we’re still going to lose a significant component piece (of the budget),” he said during a December interview.

In a January education budget decision, Gov. Gray Davis increased the Cost of Living Allowance. It was good news for the district because it meant increased revenue but it did not offset the loss from declining enrollment, White said in a recent interview. He said the district faces a $250,000 shortfall after the Cost of Living Allowance increase is added.

Meyers Elementary School Principal Doug Forte, who has been with the school district for 31 years, said the situation is “frustrating.”

Around 1994, more than 600 students attended Meyers Elementary, Forte said. Now the school has 463 students.

“We’re down about 20 kids a year for the past five years,” he said. “Unfortunately what’s happening out here is we’ve lost many of our families.”

Some young families may be moving to Carson Valley, where people get more house for their dollar.

David Kurtzman is the owner of Aspen Realty at South Lake Tahoe. He opened a small satellite office in the valley last summer.

“Here it’s virtually impossible to find anything under $150,000 and it’s going to be a two bedroom and no garage if you can,” he said. “In the valley you can get a three bedroom and garage on a quarter acre in the same price range.

“Basically you can get more home for your money in exchange for the commute,” he said.

Kurtzman noted that along with families leaving the community for cheaper housing, new families are deterred from moving to South Lake Tahoe because of expensive housing.

For instance, 40 percent of the 76 employees at the South Tahoe Police Station live in Carson Valley, according to Sgt. Alex Schumacher.

Kurtzman knows the affects of declining enrollment from his experience as a Board of Education member from 1983 to 1999.

“It’s an incredibly difficult issue to deal with because it creates tremendous budget difficulties,” he said. “I know the current school board is doing their best at finding the right solution. This community is not used to the impacts of declining enrollment.”

Mike Patterson is aware of the impacts. The president of the South Tahoe Educator’s Association said in the last three years the district is down about 10 teachers.

Those teachers have left the district or retired, Patterson said. He hopes more teachers retire at the end of the year to avoid layoffs.

When families leave the community, the school district gives them an exit exam to find out why the parents chose to leave, said Lennie Schwartz, president of the school board.

“We’ve lost a lot of kids that are causing us to look at a reduction in force and as a district we’re going to be holding some round table talks with the community,” he said.

The first round table discussion is expected to take place in the spring.

According to teacher contracts, school staff must be made aware of layoffs by March 15. It is not a date teachers are looking forward to, Forte said.

“The cost is in personnel and not paper and pencils,” he said. “I think everyone will take a hit next year.”

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