Las Virgenes District Hustles to Cope With Influx of Pupils

Times Staff Writer

School enrollment is so low in Woodland Hills and Canoga Park that school officials have padlocked nine campuses and sold and leased some of the empty classrooms.

But enrollment is so high next door in Calabasas and Agoura Hills that officials are putting portable classrooms on playgrounds and urging local zoning officials to put the brakes on growth.

One new student a day is showing up for class in the Las Virgenes Unified School District, which covers 80 square miles from the west end of the San Fernando Valley to the Ventura County line.

The enrollment spurt has shaken the school system out of an eight-year slump that saw attendance dwindle from a high of 8,500 in the mid-1970s to a low of 7,400 in 1983.

Enrollment is now 7,950. Officials say the jump is the result both of a baby boom and a housing boom caused by increasing family sizes and gradually declining interest rates on home mortgages.

Caused Delight, Fright

The turnaround has at once delighted and frightened Las Virgenes school officials.

New teachers are again being interviewed and offered jobs. Classrooms that were mothballed five years ago are being aired out, repainted and put back in use. Principals are resurrecting programs that were shelved.

But one school, Yerba Buena Elementary, is also running out of desks for newcomers. And Lindero Canyon Middle School has shoehorned a class of junior high school-age students into an adjacent elementary school's multipurpose room.

Four $60,000 modular classrooms will be trucked to the Lindero Canyon campus in Agoura Hills next week and placed on a field that has been used for physical education classes.

On Thursday, Las Virgenes school officials asked the Agoura Hills Planning Commission to reject a developer's request to increase the density of his town-house project because of the "severe overcrowding" at local schools.

Problems With Up-Zoning

"Up-zoning of any project" in the Agoura Hills area "will exacerbate that overcrowding," school Supt. Albert D. Marley said in a letter to the commission. But planners sided with the builder, voting unanimously to let him to expand his project from 163 units to 172.

The commission action came on the heels of a decision by the Agoura Hills City Council this week to consider adopting a six-month building freeze. The construction moratorium, to be debated at a Feb. 3 public hearing, would give the city time to complete its first zoning ordinance and map.

Paul Williams, Agoura Hills planning director, said Friday that such a moratorium would have no effect on as many as 300 homes, apartments and condominiums already approved and awaiting construction in the city, however.

Those homes, along with about 2,000 others planned for unincorporated areas within the Las Virgenes school system, are expected to keep classroom enrollment climbing through the year 2000, according to district projections.

May Add Buildings

Because of that, the Las Virgenes Board of Education will next month consider building several more classroom buildings at Willow Elementary School in Agoura Hills, Marley said.

And, in about a year, the board will begin studying a proposal to build an elementary school south of the Ventura Freeway in Calabasas. That campus would be Las Virgenes' 13th and it will likely be needed by about 1990. After that, an elementary school may be needed north of the freeway in the Agoura Hills area, he said.

The district's two middle schools are expected to be able to handle the growth, but Calabasas High School may have to be enlarged in the 1990s to handle the press of students, according to Las Virgenes officials' estimates.

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