Superintendent Dianne Talarico explained to the School Board that it is vital for the Board and community to figure out how many students should be enrolled in the District.
This information has become significant because fiscally prudent decisions need to be made about allocating funding from Measure BB, the school facilities bond measure that was approved by voters in November. A related question, “What is the appropriate size for each school site?” also needs to be addressed. The timeline for dealing with these questions is also important due to the inflationary nature of construction costs.
At the February 1 meeting, Talarico noted that there has been a “downward trend [in enrollment] at all levels” except at the high schools, which have remained fairly consistent. She also emphasized, “Declining enrollment was a conscious decision made by our former Superintendent and Board because of overcrowded conditions…that occurred in our classrooms in the early 2000s.” The goal of reducing enrollment was to improve the student/teacher ratio. The greatest influence on District enrollment has been decisions made by the Board on how many students to enroll on interdistrict permits, which are granted to students who don’t live within the District’s boundaries.
The District’s enrollment peaked in 2003-2004 with 12,842 students, and by 2006-2007 had declined to 11,902 students, a loss of 940 students. This has meant a reduction of $5.17 million in Average Daily Attendance (ADA) revenues even though unrestricted revenues went up during this period due to higher COLA (Cost of Living Adjustments) from the state.
“Enrollment is going down and staffing has been going up,” said Talarico. However, she is concerned: “At some point you can’t increase staffing if you lose students.”
In Board member Jose Escarce’s view, the “right size [for the District] is close to where we are now.” He also deemed it important to give a historical perspective of the District’s enrollment picture. In 1988 there were 8,900 students, which increased to 10,000 students in 1993, 11,000 students in 1996 and 12,000 in 1998. He also noted that from the low of 8,900 students to the peak of 12,800 students there was a difference of approximately 4,000 students, of which 2,000 were residents and the other half were permit students. During the peak year there were 2,600 permit students; now there are 1,700, which explains the current decline in enrollment.
Escarce also stressed that the District has to be careful about predicting that enrollment will continue to decline because the long-term trend over the last 18 years has shown an increase in residential students from 8,300 to 10,200 students. In addition, increased residential enrollment has been predicted based upon the birthrate in both Santa Monica and Malibu.
A community workshop on this issue had been scheduled for earlier this week but was cancelled. No new date has been set. The purpose of the workshop will be to discuss where the District enrollment is right now, and where the enrollment should go. This input, along with the additional information the Board requested at the meeting, will aid the Superintendent in making a recommendation on the future facility needs for the District.