CITYWIDE — The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District can expect significant increases in the number of students it will serve as early as 2015, bucking countywide trends and raising questions about current permit policy.

According to DecisionInsite, a demographics firm, SMMUSD could see a 4.3 percent increase in the number of enrolled students in 2015 and a similar jump in 2016, bringing the total number of enrolled kids to nearly 12,500 by that year.

That’s over 1,100 more kids than the district currently serves, raising questions about space available at school sites, particularly in light of a 2012 board decision to increase the number of permits available to students from outside the district to bolster flagging enrollment and, consequently, state funding.

The numbers presented Thursday by Dean Waldfogel, vice president of DecisionInsite, are considered “moderate” projections, and are based off demographic data as well as housing projects identified in Santa Monica and Malibu.

Enrollment data showed 11,329 children enrolled in the district in 2013, short of the 11,500 target eyed by the Board of Education last year that led to the increase in the number of permit students.

The district is expected to reach that by 2014 and then jump up another 500 students each of the next two years, according to the presentation.

More conservative projections show the district hitting that 12,000-student figure three years later.

Where’s the growth?

Most of the increase comes from Santa Monica, which under the moderate study will include another 1,000 students between now and 2016. Malibu, on the other hand, will stay almost entirely flat under DecisionInsite’s projections.

Under conservative projections, the Malibu student population will actually drop by 100 students over the next three years.

If permit policy remains as is, the number of students from outside the district is expected to rise slightly between now and 2016, from 1,375 in 2013 to 1,445 under the more generous projections.

Reality will often fall somewhere in between, Waldfogel said.

“You’re going to be a little more than the conservative five years out, and a little less than the moderate,” Waldfogel said.

The numbers are still likely to change.

Waldfogel and his team only just discovered The Village housing project, an 318-unit complex under construction now in front of City Hall.

The project didn’t appear on any of the official project lists, Waldfogel said, and DecisionInsite could not factor it into its projections.

“We’re learning more in the last couple of weeks,” Waldfogel said. “There will be more refinement based on what we already know.”

He wasn’t sure if those numbers would go up or down after the revisions.

Waldfogel’s presentation drew some concern from the board.

Vice President Ben Allen asked district officials to bring back recommendations on possible changes to the permit policy, one tool that the district has in controlling its population.

“It seems like projections of increases in our own permits raises a set of concerns about a level of growth in the district we may not be ready for and we may not really want,” Allen said.

Last year, the board voted to increase the number of permits available from 200 per year to 300 in order to buoy enrollment and cash in on the additional state funds that more students could bring to the district.

Superintendent Sandra Lyon assured the four board members present that officials would be conducting property walks to assess the capacity of schools.

Enrollment dropping elsewhere

SMMUSD’s growth flies in the face of county trends, which largely show a decline in the school-age population.

The California Department of Finance projects that enrollment across Los Angeles County will go down steadily across the next decade, primarily as a result of declining birthrates.

“There has been a change in the age structure throughout the developed world,” said Bill Schooling, chief of demographic research in the state Department of Finance.

As baby boomers head out of their child-bearing years and toward retirement, the adults that follow are having fewer children. That trend is reinforced by the lagging economy and relatively high unemployment rate.

“We expect that as the employment situation improves, there will be somewhat of a bounce back in births,” Schooling said. “We think that’s probably temporary.”

Still, the total fertility rate is down, not just in the United States, but across the developed world, Schooling said.

ashley@smdp.com