By Marsha Sutton
The increase in the number of sixth-grade students this year in schools in the Solana Beach and Del Mar Union school districts was unexpected and has caused some concern at the San Dieguito Union High School District, which was noted by SDUHSD superintendent Ken Noah at a Sept. school board meeting.
The sixth-grade population increased by 78 new students in the Del Mar Union School District and by 13 new students in the Solana Beach School District, according to DMUSD superintendent Jim Peabody and SBSD superintendent Leslie Fausset.
Ten of SBSD's 13 new sixth-grade students reside in the Earl Warren Middle School attendance area, while the remaining three, now attending Carmel Valley's Solana Pacific School, are in the Carmel Valley Middle School attendance area.
Peabody said almost all of Del Mar's 78 new sixth-graders are enrolled at Ocean Air, Sage Canyon and Torrey Hills schools, which are part of Carmel Valley Middle School's attendance area.
Combined, this could mean 81 unanticipated students attending San Dieguito's already overcrowded CVMS for seventh grade next year.
The increase in new sixth-grade students forced the DMUSD to bump some existing sixth-graders to a different school, causing school board members and district staff to express regret for the last-minute shuffling.
Peabody explained that the California Education Code gives priority to students residing within a school's attendance area, so students who move into a school's boundaries have priority over students attending that school from outside the school's boundaries, even if the existing students have been attending that school for years. The sixth-grade DMUSD students who were forced to leave their school reside in a different neighborhood.
"It has to do with the way schools are funded," Peabody said. "The people in an area are paying a tax to build a school, and they should have priority for their kids to go to that school because they're paying that tax."
Overcrowded Del Mar schools
Because of inadequate space, the district was unable to admit all the new and existing sixth-graders at heavily-impacted Sage Canyon School. "We didn't have room for another teacher or another classroom," Peabody said.
At Ocean Air, the resource specialist program was reconfigured and the physical education teacher became a roaming teacher without a classroom, "so we could accommodate there," he said. "But there was just no way of accommodating another room at Sage Canyon. We'd already done all the tricks we could."
To allow all the new resident students and the existing non-resident students to attend, class sizes would have had to increase "to an inordinate amount," he said.
Peabody said teachers voluntarily allowed their class sizes to rise to accommodate more students, even though classes for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade teachers in the district are guaranteed by their contract not exceed 27 students.
"The district values small class size," commented Peabody, who said teachers "went all the way up to 29 and 30 students in the sixth-grade classes."
"Our teachers were very gracious in saying we will waive the limit on class size," he said. "But at a certain point you don't have a place for any more bodies."