Many schools show dip in enrollment | TheUnion.com

Many schools show dip in enrollment

David Mirhadi
Staff Writer

Fewer students in western Nevada County and drastic cuts in state money to educate them mean local school districts are being squeezed as never before.

Nearly every district in Nevada County is facing another year of declining enrollment, with some notable exceptions. That means, in most cases, bigger class sizes and the looming specter of even more cuts at the halfway point of the budget year this winter.

“Most districts in our county are declining, and it completely magnifies our budget situation,” said Holly Hermansen, superintendent of schools for Nevada County.

Scott Lay’s tiny, one-school district, Clear Creek, is one exception. Based on percentage alone, Lay has a growth rate any Nevada County school administrator would envy.

This year, Clear Creek’s enrollment jumped 15 percent, based on attendance figures released Friday. The district has 151 students, up from 130 at the end of last year.

“We are an anomaly this year, and it’s been very nice for us,” said Lay, who is in his 19th year with the school in Nevada County’s southwestern corner.

About 30 percent of Lay’s students come from outside the district’s boundaries, which touch Yuba County and include some small subdivisions along McCourtney Road south of the Nevada County Fairgrounds.

The small-school atmosphere probably helped bring new students to the district established in 1867, Lay said.

Clear Creek, however, is an exception in western Nevada County.

Most districts are seeing slight drops in enrollment, based on estimates from most school districts in the county. That’s key to California’s education funding formula: Districts’ average daily attendance determines how much money they get.

Generally, the larger the district, the greater the drop in students.

The Nevada Joint Union High School District recorded a decline of 91 students as of Sept. 25, to 3,759 students.

Assistant Superintendent Karen Suenram said the district projected an even steeper drop, to 3,741 students, as of Oct. 1.

Pleasant Ridge Union School District covering Alta Sierra and Lake of the Pines – and the county’s largest K-8 district – lost 95 students from last year and now enrolls 1,582 students.

Based on population projections, Pleasant Ridge isn’t expected to see any growth until 2015.

“It’s going to take some very careful planning on our part,” Pleasant Ridge Superintendent Britta Skavdahl said. “Every business skill we have is going to be taxed to the max.”

Pleasant Ridge hasn’t gRown significantly in a decade, according to district figures.

In some cases, districts are getting a pleasant surprise.

Grass Valley School District is up four students, to 1,697 pupils as of Friday, said Donna Hardy, administrative assistant to Superintendent Jon Byerrum.

“This was a little unexpected this year. We expected a drop,” Hardy said, noting the district has fewer students transferring into Grass Valley from their home districts.

Some schools do not receive per-pupil funding in addition to property tax revenues, which fund K-12 education. Nevada City School District and the Twin Ridges School District on the San Juan Ridge are “basic aid” districts, which means they receive almost all of their money from property tax revenues. Therefore, they aren’t as greatly affected by attendance drops or increases.

For schools that are, and are dependent on large numbers of interdistrict transfers, fluctuations can have a dramatic effect on what a school is able to provide.

The Union Hill School District lost 30 students, from 770 students, to 740 students, as of Friday. At about $4,600 per student based on average daily attendance, that’s a loss of about $138,000, Superintendent Eric Fredrickson said.

“It’s more than I thought it would be,” he said.

About 70 percent of the district’s students come from outside the district.

As a result of declining enrollment, the district has increased class sizes in the early grades to about 23 students in grades K-3, to avoid having to combine grades.

“We just had to maximize our resources,” Fredrickson said.

Enrollment in other districts, including Twin Ridges and Forest Charter School, a K-12 school in Nevada City that includes home-study programs in Placer and Sierra counties, was relatively flat, according to estimates released this week.

Chicago Park School lost fewer students than expected. The K-8 school ended last year with 153 students, and declined to 145 students as of this week, Superintendent Dan Zeisler said.

“Nothing’s happened that’s been devastating this year,” he said.

To contact Staff Writer David Mirhadi, e-mail dmirhadi@theunion.com or call 477-4239.


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