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Tim Myers: A decline in enrollment hits the SCV

Posted: March 16, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 16, 2013 2:00 a.m.

When we moved to the SCV in 1996, the big educational news of that time revolved around over-strained elementary and secondary school facilities.

The Newhall School District famously went to year round multi-track schedules at most of its locations, meaning that one could find only 75 percent of the student community on campus at any given moment.

Helmers Elementary, the (at that moment) crown jewel of the Saugus Union School District, housed just under 1,000 students on a campus originally designed for 450 to 600 students, with portable buildings shoe-horned on every square foot of the acreage.

In the secondary school arena, four middle schools and four comprehensive high schools burst at the seams so horribly that one local principal went renegade and implemented a special schedule, unapproved by the district office, that allowed for the staggered entry of students into class over the hours of 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Fast forward to 2013 and see what occurred: The William S. Hart Union High School District built two additional middle schools and two additional high schools.

The Newhall and Saugus Union school districts enacted bond after bond and seemed to build a school in every new neighborhood. Problem solved? Perhaps not. Golden Valley High School, with consistently low enrollment, struggles to effectively compete in the Foothill League.

Saugus Union recently closed an elementary school and struggles to populate the schools of West Creek and Emblem.

Newhall School District recently issued required layoff notices to a group of teachers due to declining enrollment.

So what occurred? At the risk of acting rationally, let us look at some actual data.

In 2005, the earliest year where one can find data available on the California Department of Education website, Saugus Union enjoyed about 7,500 students over 14 locations. These 14 locations included the two new locations (since 1996) of Northpark and Plum Canyon Elementary.

In 2012, Saugus Union supported 15 locations (with the closure of Bouquet Canyon Elementary) and total enrollment DROPPED to just about 7,200. These included the new locations of West Creek and Tesoro del Valle elementary schools.

Yes, folks, you read that right. With aggregate enrollment actually in retreat, the Saugus district added two new physical locations while closing one — a net addition of one.

Now for the Newhall School District, in 2005 it supported nine locations, including the new (since 1996) locations of McGrath and Pico Canyon elementary schools, with just under 5,000 students.

Fast forward to 2012 and Newhall Elementary now supports 10 locations (Oak Creek Elementary new since 2005) and educates a complement of basically the same enrolled head count as 2005.

So, while Newhall did not commit the colossal error of adding capacity with enrollment in decline, it did add brand-new capacity in the face of flat enrollment.

But what about the Hart district? In 2005, the Hart district supported six middle schools and six comprehensive high schools, with Rancho Pico, Rio Norte, Golden Valley and West Ranch new since 1996 and a total enrollment of just over 16,800.

And in 2012, the same six middle schools and six comprehensive high schools, but now a total aggregate enrollment (including some new charter schools) of a bit over 18,000.

But remember, Newhall and Saugus (and Sulphur Springs School District and Castaic Union School District) provide pretty much the sole feeders into the Hart district. So the flat or declining enrollment of those districts will soon translate into lower head counts at the Hart district.

And yes, the Hart district plans to open a new high school in the Castaic area at about the same time that demographic decline will hit.

Can one assign blame? Not really, because only a few pessimistic voices in the early part of this century provided a counterbalance to the exuberant voices that supported the extrapolated bubble-driven growth curve that would justify all these new facilities.

And make no mistake, growth will once again occur, though not at the breakneck speeds seen in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

And hopefully, the pickup in growth will occur soon enough that wise and experienced people will remember the bust and temper the slope of the extrapolated growth curve when making important and potentially expensive infrastructure decisions.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. "Myers’ Musings" runs Saturdays in The Signal.


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