La Jolla Cluster Association grapples with drop in Choice enrollment numbers

Through the San Diego Unified School District’s School Choice Enrollment Program (shorthanded to “Choice”), students may attend schools of their choosing outside of their neighborhoods and at the same time, school enrollment numbers are stabilized. With enough enrollment, schools are given a bigger budget, and can maintain programming and staffing.

But due to decreased enrollment across the District, the number of Choice students each school can accept has also lessened. The La Jolla Cluster Association (LJCA) is worried that its numbers are lower than they should be. LJCA (comprised of teachers, principals and parents from La Jolla’s public schools) discussed the decrease at its Feb. 8 meeting.

LJCA president John May said the principals asked to be allowed to accept more Choice students, and were denied. He added that limiting the number of students from outside the La Jolla area would “fundamentally change the demographics of the middle school and high school.”

SDUSD Neighborhood Schools and Enrollment Options director Marceline Marques explained: “The aim is to maintain status quo and keep staffing and school sites stable with enrollment. But for the last 10 years, the District overall has seen a decline in enrollment from 130,000 pupils in 2007 to 105,000 this year. There are many things that factor into that, but one is the economy. We have seen other districts in the county, where housing is more affordable, increase their enrollment by a similar rate.”

As such, SDUSD demographers take different kinds of data to determine the right numbers for each school. Each school gets a projection for enrollment numbers, which includes resident and Choice students.

“This year, we are not being optimistic with our projections, but realistic, if not conservative. We are looking at this district- wide, and if we increase enrollment in one corner, we are decreasing enrollment in another, so across the board Choice numbers are down by about 1 percent,” Marques said.

To offset the decrease in Choice students, Marques suggested increasing resident enrollment to keep numbers up, but parent Fran Shimp pointed out: “Public school isn’t right for every kid, and we also have really good private schools in La Jolla. We’re not going to get those students.”

With the Choice program, schools do not provide busing transportation. There are currently 11,000 applications in the District system. Students are given their first, second and third choices, and in the event there are more applicants than spaces at a particular school, the students are assigned by a lottery.

“Every Choice program applicant is screened and the No. 1 reason parents apply for Choice is safety and security, followed by academics and then specialized programming,” Marques said. The Choice program also provides for articulation, so those who go to an elementary school could attend the feeder middle school and high school.

In other Cluster news:

Budget update: SDUSD board trustee Michael McQuary updated the board on Gov. Jerry Brown’s planned budget for education, which will be finalized in July.

“It’s a pretty good budget, $78.3 billion; it’s an increase of $3.1 billion (from last year). Some of that money is for one-time use and some is for ongoing expenses. SDUSD is looking at those numbers and taking suggestions for what we can cut,” he said. “The effort has been to make the reductions away from the classroom. We have some of the smallest classes in the state and we are salary competitive … the better our programs are, the better off our students will be.”

Locally, the principals’ budgets are down across the board, with the exception of La Jolla Elementary, which is “stable from last year,” said Principal Donna Tripi.

— La Jolla Cluster Association next meets 4:15 p.m. Thursday, March 15 at Muirlands Middle School, 1056 Nautilus St. lajollacluster.com

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