Schools seek solution to declining enrollment in South County |

Schools seek solution to declining enrollment in South County

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

Declining enrollment in schools across Nevada County can be attributed to demographics, real estate trends and competition among schools, say school administrators.

Though Pleasant Ridge Union School District, a K-8 district serving South County, has experienced decreased enrollment over the past several years, the school saw an increase in kindergarten enrollment this year, said Britta Skavdahl, the district’s superintendent.

“We have a continued pattern of declining enrollment, which is caused by larger groups of eighth-graders graduating than of incoming kindergarten students,” Skavdahl said in an email. “I cannot predict today whether the increased class sizes we see in kindergarten this year are a bubble or a trend. As of today, we would be on track for the size of cohort we would typically expect to see. However, we are early in the enrollment period for the 2013-14 school year.

According to the California Department of Education, the district has seen a gradual decline of nearly 700 students over the past 16 years. In 1996-97, the district had 2,142 students enrolled. For 2011-12, Pleasant Ridge reported an enrollment of 1,471. The sharpest decline has come in the seven-year stretch since 2004-05, when enrollment stood at 2,028.

“The data suggest that our pattern of declining enrollment will level off in about three to five years.”
— Britta Skavdahl, Pleasant Ridge Union School District superintendent

The district closed Pleasant Ridge Elementary School in 2010, seeking to close a $1.6 million budget deficit. The nearly 200 students who were enrolled there were divided between Alta Sierra and Cottage Hill elementary schools the following year.

“The data suggest that our pattern of declining enrollment will level off in about three to five years,” Skavdahl said. “At the same time, we see property moving in South County with Realtors having trouble maintaining our inventory. More and more often the buyers of homes in South County are young couples with preschool and/or primary grade-age children. This represents a possible demographic shift, which should translate into enrollment for our school sites.”

Nevada Joint Union High School District, which operates Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley and Bear River High School in South County, has seen a similar decline in enrollment. Nevada Union had 2,785 students enrolled in 1999-2000 with reported enrollment at 2,087 in 2011-12. Bear River had 1,181 students enrolled in the 1999-2000 school year. By 2011-12, enrollment was down to 850 students, which was a dramatic drop from 1,108 students four years earlier. Bear River lost 83 students in 2009-10 followed by a 76-student drop in 2010-11.

The trend has led to speculation that the district might look to consolidate its high schools, which led Bear River Principal Jim Nieto to address the issue during a Back to School program with parents. The district’s superintendent says despite the decline, Bear River will remain open.

“There are no plans to close Bear River High School,” said Marianne Cartan, district superintendent. “It is true that enrollment is on the decline for both Bear River and for Nevada Union High School. The projected lower enrollment is based on the number of students who are currently enrolled in the elementary schools.”

The reason for enrollment decline is due to multiple factors, Cartan said, noting among other factors Nevada County’s 8.7 percent unemployment.

“Some of the reasons for our schools dropping in student enrollment numbers include the high unemployment in our county,” Cartan said. “Some families are moving from this area, and parents are taking their students with them … and some of the students leaving eighth grade, and some students choose to attend a charter or private school.”

As far as the solution, administrators said schools will bump up their learning options, hoping to provide more choices for families.

“We have looked at an assortment of educational or educational support products that we could and have implemented,” Skavdahl said. “The world where you attend the neighborhood school is no longer the reality, and public schools must compete in an environment that demands choice … examples of our efforts include a home-study program, blended home-study program, after-school recreation program and a preschool program.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

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