2017-04-13 / Front Page

Study reveals bleak enrollment picture for CVUSD

Consultant forecasts loss of another 2,000 students by 2026
By Dawn Megli-Thuna

The number of students attending classes in Conejo Valley Unified is expected to fall below 17,000 by the year 2026. At its peak, CVUSD enrollment was more than 22,000.The number of students attending classes in Conejo Valley Unified is expected to fall below 17,000 by the year 2026. At its peak, CVUSD enrollment was more than 22,000.Conejo Valley Unified School District is shrinking.

Over the past 10 years, the Thousand Oaks public education system has lost nearly 3,500 students. Over the next 10 years, it’s expected to lose 2,000 more.

To grapple with falling enrollment and the potential for another school closure, CVUSD commissioned a study last fall which was presented at its March 21 meeting. The district has already closed three elementary schools in the past eight years, all of which have been recommissioned; two are now charter schools (MATES and Bridges).

According to the study, CVUSD’s student enrollment is projected to decrease by slightly more than 10 percent, to 16,976 students by the 2026-27 school year. At its enrollment peak in 2005-06, CVUSD was home to 22,456 students.

David Lopez of the demographics firm Cooperative Strategies presented the company’s findings at the meeting. He said the district—which now has 19,000 students—has seen an average annual decrease of approximately 314 students per year for the past decade. That equates to a loss of more than $2.5 million in annual funding from the state, which ties funding to student attendance.

Lopez said the enrollment projection was based on information from CVUSD and the California Department of Education as well as data from Ventura County.

The study looked at several factors, including existing enrollment, how many students continue from one grade to the next, the local birth rate and the number of future residential units.

“People say your neck of the woods is built out, and technically it is, but you do have some development going on in some areas,” he said. “That may also change with time.”

Lopez prefaced his presentation by saying projections are based on the best available information and recent trends, but factors like new residential development and inter-district transfers can still fluctuate.

He said just 354 residential units are planned within CVUSD boundaries through 2026, excluding age-restricted dwellings. While the birth rate has fallen the past two years, the report indicated that since 2010 the district has enrolled students in higher numbers than can be accounted for by local births.

This is because some families move into the district when their children are older and some leave charter schools for the public school system, Lopez said.

Superintendent Ann Bonitatibus seized on the silver lining.

“So when we’re talking about declining birth rates and fewer students attending, we’re actually exceeding the number of students who should be attending, based on birth rate. That’s a good thing for us, correct?”

Lopez agreed and said it was initially counterintuitive.

“It’s mind-boggling to get your mind around that you could be having a declining enrollment but you’re capturing a higher percentage than the birth rates showing up in your kindergartens. It’s just one of those things that happens,” he said.

Benefiting CVUSD rolls is the inter-district transfer system, which allows students living outside district boundaries to attend classes here. While the system giveth and taketh—local students can also go elsewhere—the district is experiencing a net gain, according to the report.

This school year there are 1,118 students enrolled in Conejo Valley Unified who live outside district boundaries versus more than 600 students who live in the district but choose to attend another public school district. For the past four years, inter-district transfers have made up around 6 percent of student enrollment, a rate which is expected to hold steady.

At the elementary level, enrollment is projected to decrease from 7,360 students currently to 6,805 students in the 2026-27 school year, a decline of over 7 percent. According to the study, CVUSD’s elementary facilities have capacity for 9,600.

The study also looked at attendance boundaries. Some campuses are expected to shrink faster than others.

The biggest losers are expected to be Sycamore Canyon, Maple and Lang Ranch, which are projected to lose 17, 19 and 20 percent of their students, respectively, by the 2026-27 school year.

As elementary classes shrink, middle and high school enrollments will also decline as those classes move into higher grades. Middle school enrollment is expected to decline 10 percent over the next 10 years, and high school enrollment is projected to decrease by more than 14 percent.

While the study gave a comprehensive view of CVUSD’s shrinking student enrollment over the next decade, what the study didn’t reveal was why. The cause of the shrinking enrollment—and the role housing costs play—fell outside the purview of the study.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Lopez said. “If I had a crystal ball, I would tell you.”

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