In the next five years, Santa Clarita Valley school districts will have to build at least four new elementary schools, another high school and increase the number of classrooms at several existing schools to keep up with the area's fast-growing student population, says a report released Friday.
The news that school construction must become a priority came as no surprise to the members of the five school boards that represent the sprawling region in the northern end of Los Angeles County. Since 1970, the area's population has doubled to about 95,000. Residential construction is at an all-time high. If the pace continues, Los Angeles County planners predict that, by the year 2000, the area's population will climb to 160,000.
Although the area is divided into five independent districts--Castaic Union, Newhall, Sagus Union, Sulphur Springs Union and William S. Hart Union High--the school boards jointly hired a Westlake Village consulting firm to study growth patterns and recommend what action the districts should take.
Rob Corley, a partner in EdGroup International, the consulting firm that conducted the study, told a joint meeting of the board members Thursday that they could institute temporary measures, such as increasing class size or placing schools on a year-round schedule, a move that would increase classroom space because some students would always be on vacation.
But Corley warned that these solutions would only buy the districts time and that, if the pace of development continues, they they will eventually have to build new schools.
And, he said, if there are any dramatic changes in surrounding school districts, the Santa Clarita Valley may see even more increases in its school population.
"For instance, if the Los Angeles Unified School District adopts a year-round school policy, you will see a mass migration to this area," Corley said.
Corley looked at each district individually and suggested how each should cope with growth.
Castaic: Supt. Reed Montgomery said this district, which has housed kindergarten through eighth grades on one campus, is changing from a "rural school district to a small suburban district."
Castaic logged the highest rate of growth of any Santa Clarita Valley district this year. Last year only 453 students were in the district. Now there are 665. The report predicts that 1,995 students will attend classes in 1995.
EdGroup recommends that Castaic immediately begin plans to build another campus west of the Golden State Freeway. If rapid residential growth continues, the report states, a third school may have to be built in the next five years.
Newhall: Enrollment has been on a roller coaster for several years. A sharp decline in housing starts in the 1970s and early 1980s led to a decline in enrollment. Then enrollment rose, from 2,600 in 1984 to more than 2,900 in 1985. With 47 housing developments in the planning stage and the Valencia Corp. promising to build about 1,200 residential units in the next two years, school enrollment should grow steadily, reaching 4,900 by 1995, the EdGroup report says.
Corley told the Newhall board that it should fight development in the Pico Canyon area until land is set aside for an elementary school. He also recommended that the board consider converting Old Orchard, Peachland or Wiley Canyon schools into a magnet school because these campuses are in neighborhoods with few school-age children.
Saugus: As residential growth moves into the hillsides, Corley said, it will be difficult to find land suitable for school sites. But growth is coming so rapidly to Saugus that, in the next 20 years, Corley predicts, five more schools will be needed. The district has grown from 3,686 students in 1982 to 4,077 in 1985. The report predicts a student population of 6,125 by 1995.
The study calls for a requirement that school sites be included in self-contained developments like the Valencia Corp.'s North River project. It also calls for a school to be built in north Bouquet Canyon. For the southeast part of the district, the study called for expansion of existing schools rather than construction of new ones.
Sulphur Springs: Because of the wide variety of residential units being built in this area, Corley said, it will be difficult to keep accurate counts of potential students. His report envisioned 4,180 students by 1995, up from 2,344 now. He advised the Sulphur Springs board to establish monthly or quarterly reports on population developments.
Construction trends in this area suggest that a new elementary school will be needed in two years and that more schools will be needed every three years after that, the report said.
Hart: The next few junior high classes that will enter the three high schools in the district are small. This will give the district a little breathing room, Corley said, because the district needs to build another high school as soon as possible. And, with the dramatic enrollment increases occurring at the elementary level, another junior high is going to be needed. The Hart district has 9,093 students and the report predicts 12,090 by 1995.
One possible site for a new high school, the report says, would be created if the road link between Bouquet Canyon and Canyon Country is completed.