Where are the children?

Demographics study finds schools ethnically, geographically unbalanced

KEEPING TABS Cheryl King, of Jack Schreder & Associates, said her firm could offer even more services to the CUSD, including a survey of “who’s pregnant, who’s got children who are not yet in the school system, and where they plan to send those children.”

KEEPING TABS Cheryl King, of Jack Schreder & Associates, said her firm could offer even more services to the CUSD, including a survey of “who’s pregnant, who’s got children who are not yet in the school system, and where they plan to send those children.”

Photo By Tom Angel

Get what you pay for: In contracting with Jack Schreder & Associates for a demographics study in February, the CUSD agreed to pay $35,000, much less than the firm’s initial proposal of $58,500, because the district decided to forgo a preschool study and master plan. The money comes from developers’ fees and other funds restricted to facilities-related uses.

Some Chico schools are crowded, others lack sufficient students, and few of them demonstrate a racial balance that reflects the overall community, according to a demographic analysis performed by Jack Schreder & Associates of Sacramento.

The Chico Unified School District received the report on May 3, but it didn’t become public until shortly before it was to be presented to the Campus Consolidation Committee on Aug. 25, after the News & Review’s press time.

The board-appointed committee is charged with recommending which, if any, of Chico’s 16 elementary schools should be closed, and how attendance boundary lines might be redrawn. According to district administration, each in-town closure would save $430,000 a year, while closing the three “small schools” in Cohasset, Nord and Forest Ranch, which have a collective enrollment of 174 students, would save $485,000 altogether. (The savings estimates were upped recently.)

Cheryl King, of Schreder & Associates, who lives and works in Chico, said she feels especially vested in the study because of her local connection. “My kids went to school here and my grandkids are in school here, so it makes it all the more interesting.”

King said she was a little surprised at some of the findings, such as the fact that, unlike in big cities, “the core area of the city is where the least amount of population is.”

The firm used sophisticated geographic-information-system (GIS) technology to create maps that examined Chico neighborhoods and “student residents,” right down to who goes to their neighborhood school and who transfers out—and to where.

For example, of the 457 students living within the Rosedale boundaries, 202 attend that school, while 223 go to other schools in the district and 32 are in alternative programs such as a charter school (158 kids from other boundaries attend Rosedale). Emma Wilson showed the highest “outflow” of students, 318, and Sierra View showed the lowest, 142. In most cases, the students seemed to be switching to campuses geographically near their neighborhood school.

“We find that to be very common,” King said. “It’s traditional that they go to the next school over.”

The junior high and high school levels were also tracked, showing who chose to attend schools other than the one they’d naturally go to given district boundaries. For example, more students from Chapman Elementary (75) go to Chico or Bidwell Junior than to their neighborhood junior high, Marsh (43).

Also, 376 students who would have attended Chico High naturally are going instead to Pleasant Valley, while 535 in the PV boundary attend Chico High.

The study also broke down student residents by race, with those in the Chapman boundary having the fewest white students (32 percent) and Shasta, Cohasset, Forest Ranch and Sierra View all having at least 85 percent from that ethnic group. The study noted that the CUSD “is experiencing a significant level of residential segregation,” both ethnically and socioeconomically. The district as a whole is 78.5 percent white.

“We’re pretty white everywhere except Rosedale, Chapman, Citrus and Nord,” King said.

The greatest numbers of student residents to receive free or reduced meals are in the Chapman boundary (79 percent), with Sierra View and Shasta, at 18 percent, hosting the most well-to-do.

A couple of trustees have expressed a desire to balance the schools socioeconomically and perhaps ethnically.

“I think that schools in a community ought to reflect the makeup of that community,” said Trustee Rick Rees. “We have to learn, in schools, how to get along and what other cultures and economic backgrounds are like. If we just hang out with people who are like us, our lives are not enriched.”

“I think it’s going to be really hard to balance the schools ethnically because of where the students are,” King predicted, citing neighborhood racial makeups and transportation issues.

Currently, parents are allowed to file a “Form 10,” sending their child to a school other than his or her neighborhood campus if there’s room. There are 175 students whose parents filed “Form 11s” to bring them into the CUSD from an outlying district.

Nearly all of the district’s 13,624 students were located and tracked on the maps; only 246 couldn’t be “geocoded” using school address records, a very low “error rate,” said Schreder’s GIS specialist, Jamie King, who is Cheryl’s daughter.

Enrollment was found to be low in the core of the city and highest in the Little Chico Creek and John McManus attendance areas. The study attributed the 966-student decline in elementary enrollment since 1993-94 to “age-based demographic shifts,” a 78-percent increase in housing costs between 1990 and 2000 and a birth rate decline that lifted in 2000.

The study also noted that, while residences built between 1995 and 2000 generated .462 students apiece, those built between 2001 and 2004 produced only .275 students each. The state average is .7 students generated per new residence, King said. The projection is for enrollment to decline to 13,023—another 600 students—by 2013-14. Fewer students means less per-pupil money from the state.

“The biggest problem has been the loss in kindergarten students,” King said. “But Chico’s not alone in the problems that they’re having. It’s happening all over the state.

“It’s going to change,” she added. “It’s going to come back. Districts that are consolidating are doing so temporarily.”

Meanwhile, private-school enrollment is projected to decline from 948 to 803 students over the next decade. “All the kids are not going to private schools—that’s a myth,” King said.

It’s anyone’s guess which schools would stand out to the committee for potential closure. Some are running under capacity, but their campuses have plenty of room for students: If everyone in the Rosedale and Jay Partridge boundaries were to attend their neighborhood schools, those under-capacity campuses would suddenly become full. Some schools, such as Emma Wilson and Little Chico Creek, are pretty new, while others, such as Hooker Oak and Citrus, have been around since the early part of last century and aren’t in great shape physically.

Also, administrators have noted, the charter Chico Country Day School has dibs on the first closed campus.