Enrollment overload

Has a precedent been set to forever allow all ninth-grade students into Canyon Crest Academy and San Dieguito High School Academy?

Last year and this coming fall, the San Dieguito Union High School District has accepted every student who applied to both academies – and not just incoming ninth-graders but all upper-grade transfer requests as well. The numbers are huge.

For the fall of 2015, 857 incoming ninth-grade students were admitted to CCA and 729 are expected to enroll. At SDHSA, 601 students were admitted, and 535 are expected to enroll.

The district projects a 15-percent no-show at CCA and an 11-percent no-show at SDHSA, based on historical attrition rates over the last four years.

Actual projected enrollment numbers decrease at the academies when students decide not to attend there, which explains why the projected enrollment numbers increase at the district’s other two high schools – La Costa Canyon in Carlsbad and Torrey Pines in Carmel Valley.

Enrollment for this fall at all four SDUHSD high schools looks like this:

( / Marsha Sutton)

Mike Grove, SDUHSD’s associate superintendent of educational services, said the current capacity is 2,300 at CCA and 1,880 at SDHSA.

To determine how many incoming ninth-graders the schools can handle for the following year, the number of ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders for the current year is added together and subtracted from the capacity number.

To estimate how many seats were open at CCA for the 2015 ninth-grade class, the district added existing numbers for current ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders, determining that about 700 seats would be available for this fall’s incoming ninth-graders.

Looking to next year at CCA, the number of ninth-grade seats available for 2016, based on the chart, would be 2,300 minus (729+657+513), which equals 401.

After two years of admitting all kids into CCA, next year presents a serious dilemma for the district.

A new classroom being built at CCA to accommodate all the demand will not be ready until the fall of 2017. So it’s crunch time for 2016.

It would be intolerable – Grove called it a nightmare – if the district limited enrollment for ninth-graders for just 2016. That implies that portables are likely for 2016-2017.

At SDHSA, the number of ninth-grade seats available for 2016 would be 1,880 minus (535+525+442), which equals 378 – another potential predicament for the district after two years of admitting everyone.

Projections for both academies for this fall are over capacity, but not by much. Grove expects no problem accommodating all the kids.

The first registration for incoming ninth-graders at CCA and SDHSA is April 24. Students have to enroll by then or lose their spot.

Small boundaries

The larger question is if enrollment at the two academies will continue to outpace the two traditional comprehensive high schools.

Hoping to head off over-enrollment at the two most sought-after high schools and to grant all students their first choice, the district is pushing LCC and TP to adjust their bell schedules and program structure to better meet the desires of students.

How soon that will happen, and if it will work, are unknowns.

Both academies are in great demand, primarily because the schools’ 4x4 schedules are popular with many kids. But geographic proximity is also an issue – and a valid one.

San Dieguito’s lottery system is activated when more students apply for admittance to a school than there are seats available. Proximity is not considered a factor. But kids who aren’t allowed into their neighborhood school is simply unacceptable.

The obvious solution is to draw small boundaries around the academies and give those families priority.

Grove has said that would leave some people unhappy, primarily those who live just outside that boundary line. It would also adversely affect others living farther away, more of a problem in the southern part of the district where many kids attending CCA live closer to Torrey Pines.

But in the same breath Grove has said that some people will be unhappy no matter what the district does, including if no change is made.

So just pick the option that makes the most sense and is the most fair. Kids living close to a school of choice ought to get in, right?

Not necessarily.

Sometimes the option of least resistance – to make no change at all – is what politicians choose. Will the school board vote to keep the existing system in place, which gives no priority for geographic proximity to a first-choice school?

Boundary changes are one of the biggest headaches school districts encounter. But at some point, when it’s been 18 years since boundaries were created, the issue has to be confronted – particularly when communities have changed drastically since then.

Look for this highly contentious item to come before the school board some time this summer.

— Marsha Sutton can be reached at: suttonmarsha@gmail.com.