Over the last decade, enrollment in Sacramento City Unified School District has declined by approximately 10 percent, from a high of 53,418 in 2001-02 to 47,939 last year. Enrollment this year is down again by at least 800 students. The aging of our neighborhoods, the lure of new housing in suburbs beyond our borders, and the region’s economic crisis have been cited as factors leading to this decline. We are projected to lose another 800 students in 2013-14. While we will continue to innovate programs aimed at attracting new families, we are unlikely to see an enrollment surge in neighborhoods hard-hit by job losses, foreclosures and California’s shifting demographics. According to a report released this month by the USC Price School of Public Policy and the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, California is facing an “unprecedented decline” in its child population, a trend triggered by lower birth rates, fewer newcomers arriving in the state and a smaller population of women of child-bearing age.
SCUSD’s struggles with declining enrollment have compounded the district’s serious and severe budget problems, as fewer students mean less state funding. In the last five years alone, SCUSD has been forced to cut $146 million from our budget due to state cuts to public education, declining enrollment and a loss of one-time federal funds. Balancing our books has meant raising class sizes and reducing or eliminating librarians, nurses, teachers, counselors, custodians and assistant principals. These cuts have damaged our ability to continue to provide a high-quality education to every student on every campus. Despite passage of Proposition 30 and its promise of increased education funding, we are predicting another budget deficit for 2013-14 as our costs continue to rise.
Currently, SCUSD’s elementary schools are operating at just 56 percent of enrollment capacity. This model is not fiscally sustainable and drains resources from other students and other schools. SCUSD operates 56 schools that serve elementary students. By comparison, Elk Grove Unified, which has substantially more students, has 39 schools that serve elementary students. San Juan Unified, with a similar number of students, operates 43. To “right-size” our district, staff is recommending the closure of 11 dramatically under-enrolled elementary schools, a deep reduction that is meant to reduce costs over time and address the structural imbalance that leads to under-enrolled campuses.
Right-sizing has benefits beyond those that are purely economic. Fewer elementary schools will mean fewer split-grade classrooms. Fewer elementary schools will mean more learning supports for every student at every school. Fewer elementary schools will also improve the district’s ability to maintain our campuses, classrooms, playgrounds and fields, which will help keep students safer and healthier. Fewer campuses will allow the district to concentrate our financial resources for the benefit of students and families and lower our utility costs. By being at a larger school, students will have more opportunities for intervention and enrichment and teachers will have greater opportunities to collaborate with peers who teach the same grade level.
In addition, we are projecting a $2 million reduction in costs for 2013-14 through the closure of 11 campuses, and more savings over the years. Plans are being put in place to ease the transition as much as possible for families so that they are well taken care of during this process. Community meetings will be held so that every voice is heard as we move forward.