CARLSBAD — During its annual review of school attendance and boundaries at its May 22 meeting, the Carlsbad Unified School District (CUSD) Board of Trustees debated changing elementary school attendance boundaries in anticipation of higher student enrollments resulting from Bressi Ranch, Quarry Creek and other new or planned housing developments within the next few years.
Enrollment projections compiled for CUSD staff revealed that over the next seven years, new housing developments would generate several hundred new students within the district. Estimates showed that starting next year, CUSD would gain approximately 72 students from proposed residential developments, and that that number would gradually climb to 1,045 students by 2020.
These predictions indicated that the district as a whole has the capacity to manage this increase.
But they also showed that under the district’s current attendance boundaries, certain elementary schools would receive a disproportionate increase in students with these new residential developments.
This would further exacerbate the elementary schools’ disproportionate student populations already produced by current attendance boundaries.
The latest CUSD enrollment projections revealed that both Buena Vista and Kelly elementary schools, already the smallest schools in the district, would likely experience drops in student population next year resulting in enrollments below 400 students.
As of May of this year, Buena Vista had 304 students and is projected to have 299 at the start of the 2013-14 school year, meaning the school will be operating at about 50 percent of its 594-student capacity.
Kelly had 421 students as of this May and will have an estimated 388 next year, which is 47 percent of the school’s 825-student capacity.
By comparison, CUSD’s elementary schools with the most students are Aviara Oaks and Pacific Rim Elementary, which had 768 and 876 students respectively this May. Their enrollment projections show that the schools will maintain similar numbers in the fall.
CUSD staff concluded that the district could support any potential student growth under current elementary attendance boundaries through the 2014-15 school year.
“For the start of the 15-16 school year, we need to make sure we need to address any growth,” said Deputy Superintendent Suzanne O’Connell at the meeting.
Staff recommended that the Board of Trustees retain current elementary school boundaries for the next two years and monitor student growth as the housing developments are built. They further advocated that any students within the Quarry Creek development, which will contain 656 new housing units at build-out, should be assigned to Buena Vista Elementary School.
“Currently BV (Buena Vista) is our lowest attendance school, so it would make sense to identify BV before they (the Quarry Creek developers) even broke ground,” said O’Connell.
Board President Elisa Williamson proposed that Board members consider going beyond staff recommendations and examine altering elementary attendance boundaries within the CUSD sooner rather than later.
She said that projections blatantly showed that certain schools would grow disproportionately. She specifically cited how the student enrollment at Hope Elementary School is expected to grow, while that of the neighboring Kelly Elementary School is expected to shrink.
“I don’t know the value of waiting two or three years before changing the boundaries when it’s pretty obvious to me that Hope’s increasing and Kelly is decreasing,” said Williamson.
She also suggested that the Board consider directing staff to alter attendance boundaries to maintain certain student and class minimums at elementary schools.
“I do have concerns when a school drops below 400 students,” said Williamson.
She explained that elementary schools with fewer than 400 students often cannot maintain at least two classes per grade level, meaning that teachers cannot collaborate with other teachers who have the same grade. Furthermore she said that schools with lower enrollments have to pay more per student in overhead costs and have less parent support.
But other board and CUSD staff members were hesitant about Williamson’s ideas.
O’Connell cautioned against frequently changing attendance boundaries given that enrollment numbers are known to fluctuate from year to year. She said that changing boundaries with the ebb and flow of enrollment “would just be a nightmare.”
“I’m very hesitant about changing every year by the numbers,” said board member Ann Tanner. “I don’t feel comfortable making a decision tonight with the (enrollment projections) we have.”
Consequently, Williamson dropped her suggestions, and the board voted unanimously to approve CUSD staff’s recommendations to leave attendance boundaries as they are, assign Quarry Creek students to Buena Vista Elementary and monitor enrollment as other housing developments are completed.