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Three La Jolla schools project enrollment declines as S.D. district expects ‘big hit’ in funding

Muirlands Middle School is projecting a drop in enrollment next school year, as are some other La Jolla Cluster schools.
Muirlands Middle School is projecting a drop in student enrollment next school year, as are some other La Jolla Cluster schools.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The San Diego Unified School District is facing funding challenges exacerbated by enrollment declines, including among the public schools that make up the La Jolla Cluster.

At the Feb. 24 meeting of the La Jolla Cluster Association, three local principals reported projected drops in enrollment for the next school year, while another’s enrollment is projected to remain the same.

For the record:

5:03 p.m. March 7, 2022This article has been updated to correct the email address for information about La Jolla Cluster Day.

“We have a ding with enrollment,” said Bird Rock Elementary School Principal Andi Frost, who added that the school will be losing a teacher next academic year, since school site budgets are based on enrollment.

Frost did not give exact enrollment numbers and did not respond to a La Jolla Light request for them.

Muirlands Middle School Principal Jeff Luna said his campus’s projected enrollment for next school year is 715, down from the 732 enrolled this year. He said that will result in a small reduction in staff allocation.

Luna said keeping “our staff intact … is always a priority for us.”

Torrey Pines Elementary Principal Nona Richard said her school is projected to have 449 students next school year, down from this year’s 506.

Richard said the current year’s enrollment expanded with the addition of dozens of Afghan refugee students placed at TPES in February. She said a few more will be enrolled at the school soon.

However, it’s uncertain how many of the refugee students will stay at Torrey Pines next school year.

Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink said La Jolla Elementary is projected to have 449 students next academic year, “pretty comparable to this year.”

She said “enrollment might be a little challenging over the next couple of years” because some people have left during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she anticipates LJES enrollment eventually will climb to its 600-plus student capacity.

“We’re also very excited about the addition of universal transitional kindergarten for next year,” Hasselbrink said. UTK opens transitional kindergarten programming to all 4-year-olds, expanding from the previous eligibility of those born between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2.

Hasselbrink said UTK will be taught both by elementary and early-childhood educators.

La Jolla High School Principal Chuck Podhorsky did not give an enrollment update at the meeting or respond to the Light’s inquiry about numbers.

San Diego Unified board member Michael McQuary, whose District C includes La Jolla, said enrollment across the district has been declining by about 1.5 percent annually since 2010. Enrollment for this school year is about 95,000 — about 4,000 fewer than district leaders had projected.

“While school districts in California have received a massive increase in funding, much of this new money was one-time-only funding, restricted and required to be used in a specified ... categorical manner,” McQuary said.

Following two La Jolla Cluster Association meetings about a new San Diego Unified School District math initiative, Muirlands Middle School math teacher Rob Tindall says he is “beyond frustrated” and wants the local association to consider invoking part of an agreement with the district that allows schools to request adjustments to the curriculum.

Compounding issues related to next year’s enrollment is the expiration of the state’s “hold-harmless benefit,” which during the pandemic paused the attachment of school funding to enrollment and average daily attendance rates.

“This two-year correction will need to be made during this single 2022-23 funding period,” McQuary said. “So this could be a big hit, more than twice what we would have expected.”

He encouraged parents with questions about funding and programs to seek answers from principals and SDUSD Area 5 Superintendent Mitzi Merino.

Other cluster news

La Jolla Cluster Day at Petco Park: Torrey Pines Elementary parent Wes Jones said a La Jolla Cluster Day is scheduled for San Diego’s Petco Park on Sunday, June 12, with the San Diego Padres’ KidsFest beginning at 10:40 a.m. and the Major League Baseball team’s game against the Colorado Rockies set for 1:10 p.m.

More information will be released soon, Jones said. Questions can be emailed to events@tpesfoundation.org.

Next meeting: The La Jolla Cluster Association next meets at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, March 17, on Zoom. Learn more at lajollacluster.com.