Housing costs blamed for enrollment decline
Although enrollment at Douglas County’s Lake Tahoe schools continues to decline because of a lack of affordable housing, one district official believes the drop will level off.
Director of Business Services Rick Kester said the district-wide decline in enrollment of about 30 students was partially offset by an increase of about 50 students in Carson Valley.
However, Douglas schools’ population of nearly 800 students at Lake Tahoe fell by about 80 pupils, according to enrollment figures recently compiled by the district.
The district’s drop of about 30 students looks favorable when compared to losses of 164 during the 1999-2000 school year and 130 during 2000-2001, Kester said.
Kester said the district is “a little concerned” about Lake Tahoe. “Those schools are getting fairly small.”
Although he said it’s not based on “scientific” research, Kester blamed the recent closing of apartments on Kahle Drive, which housed about 100 Douglas County school students for Tahoe’s slipping enrollment.
The drop in pupil totals will not affect funding for this school year because legislation passed during the last legislative session allows districts to use the highest enrollment figure during the last two years.
However, the decline could cost Douglas about $450,000 in funding for the 2002-03 school year, Kester said, unless enrollment improves next year.
“It’s still not catastrophic,” Kester said. “Those aren’t major losses out of a $40 million operation budget.”
Kester said the district’s enrollment patterns will continue to “drift downward” partially because of a lack of affordable housing at Lake Tahoe.
And the district will likely have to keep making minor cuts in staffing corresponding with the enrollment decline, he said.
“If you’re teaching fewer kids, you have to reduce your staffing,” he said.
Kester blames the overall lack of affordable housing in Douglas County as the culprit in the sliding enrollment because Washoe and Carson City continue to see increased student populations.
He said there is far more rental property in those two counties than in Douglas, and that’s not likely to change, particularly in Lake Tahoe.
Also, Kester said the district isn’t pinning any hopes on the announced arrival of Starbucks Coffee Company in Carson Valley next year.
He said the substantial commercial growth in Carson Valley the last five years has coincided with student enrollment decreases.
“The housing and the jobs being produced are not conducive to young families with young kids,” he said.
And with kindergarten enrollment about 150 students less than a few years ago, Kester again blames a lack of housing available for young families.
“We’re clearly missing our youngest students,” he said. “One of the factors for sure is the cost of housing.”