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Enrollment of Students on Upswing

Education: East county school officials say the surge is linked to new homes, higher birth rates and transfers from private campuses.

September 21, 1996|KATE FOLMAR and JEFF McDONALD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Two weeks into the new academic year, east Ventura County school districts are seeing enrollment increases even beyond their summertime projections.

Schools in Simi Valley, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks are attracting hundreds of new students, crowding classrooms and overwhelming those who plot strategy for educating young people.

"We keep building schools," said Frank De Pasquale, an assistant superintendent at Moorpark Unified School District, the county's fastest-growing district. "We have another school that we intend to have online in September of 1997."

West county educators, meanwhile, also are experiencing rises in attendance, although the rate has declined in some districts this fall compared to a year ago. For example, enrollment jumps in Ventura and Camarillo have slowed while Oxnard districts continue to grow rapidly.

Administrators across the county say several factors have contributed to the overall attendance surge, including new home construction, higher birth rates, and more parents moving children from private to public schools.

In Simi Valley, where educators run the county's largest district, enrollment swelled by 300 to nearly 19,000. Officials spent much of the summer planning for new students, but their projections fell short by about 200 pupils.

Acting Supt. Robert Purvis told trustees at a recent meeting that affordable housing and the quality of life in Simi Valley continue to attract new families.

"You have people who are escaping urban blight from the L.A. area," he said. "They come in this direction."

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Growth was more dramatic in Thousand Oaks, where Conejo Valley Unified School District officials reported more than 500 new students compared to last fall.

With enrollment at more than 18,500 and an ongoing shortage of classrooms, Conejo Valley trustees are stepping up construction of the elementary school proposed in the Lang Ranch area.

"We've had a fair amount of construction in Lang Ranch and North Ranch and Sherwood and Rancho Conejo, and the addition of some low-income housing," Assistant Supt. Richard Simpson said.

"Those four or five pockets of development are adding new residents to the area, and new residents have kids," he said.

Conejo Valley school board members also are considering the remote possibility of switching to a year-round schedule to make more room for students.

Officials at the Oxnard Elementary School District began year-round classes more than 10 years ago to deal with continuing student increases. So far, officials say it has been a successful way to cope with overcrowding.

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Nonetheless, construction of Norman R. Brekke Elementary School is under way, and administrators have applied for another 45 portable classrooms for the Oxnard campuses.

"We track enrollment constantly," said Sandra Herrera, a district assistant superintendent. "For us, it's a great problem just trying to accommodate the growth within our facilities."

The Oxnard district has more than 14,000 students on 17 campuses. As of August, enrollment was up more than 400, a 3.1% increase over one year.

Even with Brekke school opening next summer, Herrera said she thinks the district will need two more elementary schools in seven years.

"Oxnard has had continued growth and development over the past several years," she said. "That means bringing in new families as well as having the birth rate increase."

Oxnard Union High School District grew 3.9%, a larger increase than all other districts except Moorpark, which grew 4.4%.

With 500 more high school students spread across the district's five main campuses, Assistant Supt. Richard Canady said every bit of available space is being used for classrooms, and teachers are having to move from room to room during the day.

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"Now we have teachers that are traveling," he said. "So instead of rooms being used five periods a day, they are being used six periods."

For the Pleasant Valley School District in Camarillo, enrollment has climbed to more than 7,000. That figure includes about 75 students more than administrators projected when they wrote the current budget.

"There's nothing really earth-shattering about it," said Ken Marshick, the district's personnel director.

"All of the grade levels have moved up a little bit," he said. "It's probably the impact of the baby-boomers' children, but the demographics are difficult to explain because they hinge on so many things."

Four times in recent years, voters in the 14-school Pleasant Valley district have failed to pass a multimillion-dollar school bond that would have paid for new schools and renovated classrooms.

Despite the continuing growth, the Camarillo district is the slowest-growing of the county's large districts, with an increase this fall of only 1.2%.

Ventura Unified School District officials took another tack when dealing with overcrowding at their two high schools. Beginning this fall, nearly 200 Buena High students were sent to Ventura High to balance student body enrollments.

But enrollment continues to increase, climbing another 2.5% in a year. "We're packing 'em in," said Georgeann Brown, the district's budget director. "Right now, we're simply making do."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Ventura County School Enrollments

Here is a comparison of enrollments at some of the larger school districts in Ventura County over the past three years:

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1996-97 1995-96 1994-95 Simi Valley Unified School District 18,896 18,596 18,330 Conejo Valley Unified School District 18,564 18,001 17,715 Ventura Unified School District 16,760 16,345 15,807 Oxnard Union High School District 13,150 12,650 12,400 Oxnard Elementary School District 14,010 13,590 na Pleasant Valley School District 7,052 6,965 6,930 Moorpark Unified School District 6,875 6,587 6,177

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Source: Various school districts

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