Del Mar Union School District keeps watch on declining enrollment

Students in a classroom at Ocean Air.
(Karen Billing)

Enrollment has dipped in the Del Mar Union School District with 3,701 K-6 students starting the school year, down from 3,944 at the end of 2021-22.

At the Aug. 24 board meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Ryan Stanley said decreasing enrollment is something that the district is continuing to monitor and that there are a few factors contributing to the lower numbers of students.

Statewide there has been a steady decline in enrollment since 2014-15 and for the first time since 2000, California’s public school enrollment dropped below 6 million. Back in 2015 when DMUSD’s enrollment was at 4,464 students, the district projected to reach 5,000 students in 2020-21 school year.

According to the California Department of Education, the state’s enrollment declines are consistent with national data trends that show enrollment is dropping across the country. These declines began prior to the pandemic and are projected to continue into the future in California, the CDE said.

The cost of housing within the district is a contributing factor, Stanley said, impacting opportunities for houses to turnover and for new families to move in. The pandemic also played a part, as traditionally a number of families would move here to work at universities or other companies but not as many workers are coming into the community.

“We are also seeing decreased enrollment with the uncertainty and delay in building Del Mar Heights,” Stanley said. Del Mar Heights housed 458 K-6 students in the 2019-20 school year, now it’s just a little over 300. Construction remains halted on the new Heights, planned with a capacity of 537 students.

At the meeting, Stanley provided a breakdown of the district’s enrollment by school site:
Ashley Falls-387
Carmel Del Mar- 552
Del Mar Heights- 308
Del Mar Hills-282
Ocean Air- 500
Pacific Sky- 337
Sage Canyon-503
Sycamore Ridge-426
Torrey Hills-495

With the opening of the new Pacific Sky School, the biggest reductions are at Ashley Falls and Sycamore Ridge. The new Pacific Sky School was built with the capacity for 480 students and Stanley said they had been expecting about 350 students this year.

The numbers included K-6 students and the Early Childhood Development Center and special education preschool. Trustee Katherine Fitzpatrick said that it was a little misleading to include families who are paying to go to preschool; Stanley said they are providing teachers for those children so they are considered students in the district and were included in the numbers.

This year’s kindergarten class is the smallest with 393 students and fifth grade the largest with 610. Average class sizes for K-3 are below 20:1 and 4-6 are below 23:1.

“I just have to marvel at the class sizes,” said DMUSD President Erica Halpern. “That’s pretty incredible and it’s exciting to see that the teachers can have a smaller number of kids to work with and hopefully increase educational outcomes.”