Study changes picture of local school demographics | SierraSun.com

Study changes picture of local school demographics

Katherine Morris

A recent demographics study commissioned by the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District makes some surprising predictions for the district’s future with its enrollment crystal ball.

According to the report, which was presented to the district board and staff last week, over the next five years TTUSD – district-wide – will see a continual increase in enrollment at the high school level, while numbers at the elementary and middle school sites will remain largely static.

“The study really turned over some things that we’ve never seen or expected,” said Director of Facilities and Construction John Britto. “The high school issue is definitely a new one that we hadn’t really given much thought to before. It means that we’re going to have to shift gears a little bit as far as our plans for development and growth.”

The study, conducted by Capital Program Management (CPM), a Sacramento-based consulting firm, was commissioned to assist the district in updating its Facilities Master Plan – a process that occurs roughly every five years.

“Our last master plan was done in 1997-98,” Britto said. “Now, we’ve reached the point where most of the projects spelled out in that plan have been completed or are in the works, we need to start looking to the future. A lot has changed in five years, especially with demographics and enrollment issues, and we’ve got new facility needs to address.”

The previous master plan was also crafted during a time when student enrollment numbers had reached record highs – particularly at the younger grade levels.

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With no end to that growth in site, the district embarked on various projects to accommodate that swelling student population such as a $34 million replacement for an already overcrowded Sierra Mountain Middle School.

“Ever since then, though, the numbers in our district have continued to decline each year, and unfortunately, the demographics study that was done back in 1997 did not predict that decline,” said TTUSD Trustee Patricia Gibbons-Johnson.

“I think that a lot of what’s going on has to do with housing prices in the area, as well as with the fact that a lot of the development occurring is creating higher-end houses, which don’t tend to bring in families with young children,” she added.

“There are some initiatives to create more affordable housing in the area and I think those types of things would help us, but until then, we see people, especially younger families, who would love to live here but can’t, picking up and moving down to Reno and other areas.”

In March of the 1999-00 school year, TTUSD reported a total enrollment of 4,739, but in March of 2001, enrollment was down to 4,564, a loss of 175. The numbers for 2001-02 seemed to indicate that that the decline may be slowing, as TTUSD reported a total of 4,494 students, a loss of 50.

However, according to TTUSD Superintendent Patrick Gemma the numbers are still dropping this year.

When combined with rising operating costs and decreasing state funding, declining enrollment has become one of the more painful thorns in TTUSD’s side.

“TTUSD will receive less revenue from the state in 2002-03 than we received in 2001-02,” Gemma wrote in a recent letter sent out to district employees. “There are two primary reasons why we will have less income. The chief reason is our continued 75-100 student decline in enrollment. In other words, even though the amount we receive per ADA increased, our decrease in ADA resulted in a net decrease in revenue from last year to this year.”

Aside from demographics trends and enrollment projections, CPM provided the district with a series of facilities master plan options to consider.

“CPM has looked at each individual site to help us decide what changes and projects make sense and which ones do not, as well as get us up to date on our ADA compliance,” Britto said. “We told them to bring us as many options as possible and that we would consider everything – even it was in conflict with one of our current projects or plans.”

CPM responded with roughly 10 different master plan options to take the district through the next five years, which were at several meetings last week.

“So far, we have been able to narrow it down to just a few, with the help of this study and input from the community,” Gibbons-Johnson said. “I think the study really shows the need to expand facilities for Truckee High School, which is predicted to grow by as much as 20 percent in enrollment.”

When asked if TTUSD would consider scrapping the massive new middle school project, for which the site work has already been completed, both Gibbons-Johnson and Britto said no.

“The justifications for a new middle school are still relevant,” Britto said, noting that SMMS is currently operating at several hundred students beyond its capacity. “And, from the looks of this study, it appears that those numbers aren’t going to change.”

“I think in the end, we will be able to provide our children with a quality middle school, and that is important,” Gibbons-Johnson said.

Britto said he is hoping to bring a draft facilities master plan before the TTUSD Board, as well as send it out for public comment and review sometime in January.

Until then, the district will continue to hold workshops on the material for the school sites, as well as the community.

“We also plan to keep working with CPM, providing them data each year,” he said. “In just a few weeks, we’ll have an even better picture of where our district is at when they come back to us with updated enrollment numbers for this year. Really, we’re just trying to find solutions that make sense for where this district is headed.”