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Most School Districts Growing Despite Budget Woes

Most School Districts Growing Despite Budget Woes

South Bay, Del Mar Feeling the Pinch In Different Ways

BY LISA KOVACH

It seems that public school districts are either simply weathering the year and the state budget crisis or they are growing , adding new schools and teachers.

This year’s List of Public School Districts reveals that 14 districts on The List have had decreases in enrollment, with nearly the same amount experiencing an increase.

Patrick Pettit, superintendent of South Bay Union, No. 15 on this year’s List, experienced an 11 percent decrease and said the reason is simple.

“In the last few years we have had more sixth graders leave than we have had kindergartners to replace them,”

Pettit said. “The home values and rents in Imperial Beach have risen dramatically and many of our former residents are no longer able to afford the rents here.”

With decreases in enrollment and the state budget cuts, South Bay has begun to feel the effects.

“We have had the same kind of budget cuts every other district has had,” Pettit said. “But in addition to a decline in enrollment we have had a reduction in revenue because we have less students. Not only do we get hit with the budget cuts, but we get less revenue.”

With less revenue, South Bay has had to make its own budget cuts, including dropping programs and reducing staff.

“This year we have already cut about $1.6 million for the next year,” Pettit said. “And we still have a long ways to go.”

Ideally, he said South Bay would need to cut about $4.1 million.

To combat the budget cuts, Pettit said he has reduced his staff in the last few years and expects to let go another six to 12 this year.

This is in addition to the fact that teachers in the district have not received raises in the last two years.

“Nobody’s happy about that,” Pettit said. “It’s just the reality.”

On the other side of the coin, Thomas Bishop, superintendent at Del Mar Union, No. 25 on The List, experienced a 12 percent increase this year and has seen his schools blossom from 1,700 to 3,500 students in the last five years.

“Our area is one of the fastest-growing parts of the North County,” Bishop said. “People are enthusiastic about having their kids in our district and so they are moving here.”

Del Mar Union is one of the highest-rated schools in the state with an average Academic Performance Index of 920 and a statewide rank of 10, the highest number available. The statewide performance goal for all schools is an API score of 800.

While Del Mar ranks among the best districts in the state, Bishop said scores do not mean everything.

“There’s more to school and life besides scores,” Bishop said. “The test scores just measure reading and math. Our parents want kids to be good citizens and responsible people. We want to educate the whole child not just in the academic sense.”

With five schools in the district, Del Mar is in the process of opening a sixth school and has plans to open three more in the next five to seven years.

Sweetwater Union High in Chula Vista, No. 2 on the List, has had tremendous growth adding nearly 5,000 students in the past year a 13 percent increase.

Part of that growth is the result of people moving to Chula Vista, which has become one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, said Lillian Leopold, director of grants and communication for the district.

Sweetwater added two new high schools and one middle school in the last three years, resulting in a total of 27 campuses.

With new schools comes the addition of new teachers. As Leopold said, each year the district hires about 100 teachers with plans to do the same this year, regardless of the state budget.

“Growth is a good thing but it can also be a challenge,” she said. “We’ve been building schools as fast as we can.”

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