Where did all the kindergartners go?

Just 81 students enrolled in kindergarten for every 100 graduating seniors in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District last year, a trend revealed to the education board during its meeting Tuesday at district headquarters.

It was one of several potential issues outlined by Dean Waldfogel of DecisionInsite, a demographics firm that SMMUSD hired to forecast enrollment in the district for the next decade.

The projections play a role in staffing decisions, budgeting and other district policies, including transfer permit allotments.

Although kindergarten figures weigh heavily in enrollment forecasting, Waldfogel said district-wide enrollment is expected to hold relatively steady despite the recent decline at the kindergarten level.

He said there were unexpected drops in the numbers of kindergartners living in the areas served by Franklin, Grant, McKinley, Rogers and Roosevelt elementary schools.

“In looking at this district, did we project kindergarten properly? No,” Waldfogel said. “There was nothing in your historical trends that would have predicted this crop failure in kindergarten. With the mathematics of looking at three years of kindergarten, no demographer would have projected a loss. But we didn’t do very well this year on kindergarten.

“Overall, when you look at the district-wide numbers, usually you’re falling between moderate and conservative projections. These anomalies do happen, but our general confidence is that the reality falls between the two projections.”

Modest residential growth and a one-month change in eligibility rules will likely prevent a prolonged decline in kindergarten enrollment, Waldfogel said.

Board member Maria Leon-Vazquez wanted to know if there are data on where the “disappearing” students actually went, but Waldfogel noted that these were counts of kids in residential areas and not of actual school populations.

Meanwhile, enrollment is expected to grow at Juan Cabrillo, McKinley and Roosevelt elementary schools and at John Adams and Lincoln middle schools over the next five years, according to DecisionInsite models.

Waldfogel said the forecasts could lead the district to consider closing enrollment to students from outside those schools’ areas or adjusting the sites’ attendance boundaries.

“There are certain areas of the district that may be growing faster than others,” he said.

Board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein wondered aloud how enrollment projections would be affected if the district split into separate Santa Monica and Malibu entities. Waldfogel said the forecast would not change dramatically but added his firm could further examine the possibility.

The enrollment projections preceded a discussion of intradistrict and interdistrict transfer policies, although the board did not take any action Tuesday.

There is a significant number of students joining the district well beyond kindergarten, Waldfogel said. About 120 ninth-grade students at Samohi last year, for example, were not enrolled in SMMUSD schools the previous year.

Out-of-district enrollment is at 13.5 percent.

Forecasts show that Santa Monica’s population is expected to increase over the next few years but that the number of families with school-age children is not growing as quickly.

Those projections led board member Craig Foster to pose a broad philosophical question about future district strategies for fundraising and community outreach.

“If the population is growing but the school-age population is stagnating,” he said, “how do we continue to make ourselves relevant to the rest of the population?”

Contact Jeff Goodman by phone at 310-573-8351, via email at jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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