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  School Bucks
Piper Underwood | Rimini Road

 

Delivering the kids to school. Del Mar Heights couldn’t handle 700 plus
students even if you could fit them into portables and classrooms
on campus. Photo Piper Underwood

Gone are the days of a private school education at a public school price.
Because the Del Mar Union School District is a basic aid district, relying primarily on property tax revenue and minimal state funding, it has thus far escaped some of the more severe state education cutbacks that other non-basic aid districts have suffered. It has not gone unnoticed by state budget makers who have set their eyes on basic aid districts in what they are calling a “fair share” funding requirement.

The fair share requirement for the DMUSD in the 2009-2010 school year totaled $1, 038, 452. In the 2010-2011 school year, this requirement is expected to increase to $2, 260,000. Depending on what happens at the State level, there could be even more money grabs in the future.

This, coupled with an anticipated decline in property tax revenue, has left the district in a scramble to cut expenses and identify possible revenue sources. The stability of the tax base, the stability of student enrollment, the level of student enrollment and a school’s capacity all affect the district’s ability to match programs to revenue.
The district is anticipated to grow in the southern and eastern portions of the district where development has skyrocketed and young families are looking to buy in a reputable school district. However, due to the housing crisis, some of these developments have stalled, but the district is still obligated under contracts with developers to hold seats for future students.

The district has aimed its scope at schools which are not running at capacity and who are expected to experience declining enrollment. The 7-11 district advisory committee found that Del Mar Hills was running at 74% capacity while Del Mar Heights was at a 77% capacity. Sycamore Ridge, a newer school, in the eastern section of the district, is running at 56% capacity, but is not being considered for either closure or reconfiguration because of expected future growth and legal obligations the district has with Pardee Homes.

DecisionInsite, a company used by the district to handle enrollment projections, found that Del Mar Heights is expected to grow in enrollment by 10%; Del Mar Hills is expected to drop in enrollment by 8%. These two schools draw from the same boundary, which has created a competition for enrollment. Some parents have suggested making one or both of the Westside schools a magnet or charter school with the idea of more academic freedom and to bolster enrollment in order to justify existence.

In its most recent attempts at budget reductions, district staff has recommended combining the Hills and the Heights, with a revenue-generating preschool and a kindergarten at one, and grades 1-6 at the other. This recommendation would also entail moving a portion of the Del Mar Hills/Del Mar Heights boundary that resides east of I-5, and intra-district transfers back to their neighborhood schools bringing enrollment down to a manageable number for the 1-6 grade campus. Children from this boundary who are already enrolled at one of the two schools will be allowed to carry out their education at whichever campus hosts the 1-6 grade levels.

With a new boundary comprised of students west of the 5, the student population settles in at around 485 students, a reasonable number that could be housed at either the Hills’ or the Heights’ campus. The problem with this recommendation is that for the first couple of years as the transfers are able to stay at a school west of the 5, the student population runs upward of 700 kids, a number that cannot be safely housed at either campus.

With 81% of costs geared toward salaries and benefits, and property tax revenue uncertain, the district is trying to create efficiencies within the district (read: teacher and administration layoffs). We won’t know what the exact revenues from property taxes will be until August, but they are expected to decline, with only the City of Del Mar property tax revenue showing a modest gain.

The plot thickens.

 

 
 

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