Declining enrollment a threat to LCUSD

If enrollment in the La Cañada Unified School District continues its downward trend over the next few years, serious consequences such as the closure of a school site could be the result.

The causes in the decline may be linked to the real estate market or families placing their children in private schools, or both.

At the most recent school board meeting, Supt. Jim Stratton said that this year the short-term good news was that the district is down just 80 students, 10 fewer than the projected shortfall of 90.

However, enrollment figures include 135 inter-district students, or 3.3 percent of overall student population, which were accepted on employment-related permits because their parents work within the boundaries of the district, many at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

The district continues to see large senior classes but very small kindergarten classes are forming.

This year, district enrollment totals 4,092 as compared with last year's 4,172. According to Stratton, enrollment in the current kindergarten class is 190 while the current La Cañada High School senior class has 400 students. Projecting that out over the next decade, if the numbers continue to decline at the same rate, the district could see a loss of nearly 1,000 students, “although that information is purely speculative,” Stratton said.

When it comes to La Cañada Flintridge real estate, affordability is a big factor, explained Sam Buchanan, owner of B & B Properties in La Cañada.

“The margin is so small for the people who can afford to buy here who have kindergarten age children. In my experience the more expensive the homes become, the fewer families with school-age children move in,” Buchanan said.

“Of the seven I sold recently that were well above $1 million, one was sold to a couple without children moving to LCF for a quieter neighborhood. Another couple with grown children was looking for seclusion and a couple moved in from out-of-state without school age children. One home on Chevy Chase sold to a couple moving from another area with children already in private schools. They decided to keep them in those schools. Others are relocating within the district and their children are already enrolled here.”

According to Buchanan, when a relocation firm used to refer a client they would look for areas with good schools. “

Now, executives are coming into the area from the studios or the downtown Los Angeles area.

“With the cost of gasoline these days, they want to be freeway close, which we are, and [they] aren't looking necessarily for schools,” he said.

At the Sept. 11 board meeting, Stratton said, “It's still a very, very pressing long-term issue. This will be an issue that the board and staff will have to attend to very, very seriously. This will require that we need to get some very detailed and precise information on demographics because if the trend continues, that is.?.?.?we don't see a turnaround in the kindergarten class [size] we may have to face some serious decisions about how the district continues.”

Stratton said in a telephone interview Tuesday, that since the Sept. 11 meeting the board has received demographic reports from the city of La Cañada Flintridge. “We are now moving ahead to hire our own demographers to go out and get us more detailed information on student population and families with students.”

Summarizing the local real estate market and its affect on the school district, real estate broker Buchanan said, “The fact is that an entry level house in La Cañada hovers around a million dollars and there aren't a lot of young couples that can afford that. I do see a future where there may be a smaller school district with fewer schools.”

At the nearby Mountain Avenue Elementary School, part of Glendale Unified School District but in the “Sagebrush” area of La Cañada Flintridge, Rebeca Witt, principal said there are currently three kindergarten classes with 20 students each at that site.

Though in the past historically there were four, she said she has seen no dramatic change recently. “We haven't seen the drop; every classroom in our school is being utilized.”

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