2016-02-05 / Front Page

Enrollment drop slows in 2015-16 school year

By Hector Gonzalez

Numbers released this week by Simi Valley Unified School District show enrollment dropped by 34 students since the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, a figure far lower than officials had expected.

The district began the school year Aug. 17 with 17,362 students. As of Jan. 29, enrollment was at 17,328, according to the numbers released Monday.

Enrollment usually drops by about 200 students in the first six months of the school year, SVUSD spokesperson Jake Finch said Monday.

“It’s well below the average this year,” she said.

Superintendent Jason Peplinski told the Simi Valley Acorn he was thrilled with the numbers.

“Only losing 34 students compared to the 200 or so at this time last year is a huge accomplishment,” he said. “We think the efforts to better market our programs and the positive press on social media and in the Acorn contributes to these numbers.”

Earlier this month, SVUSD launched a rebranding campaign, adopting a new motto, “From Here to Anywhere,” a new logo and a new promise statement to do everything possible to make sure children succeed.

When officials created the district’s operating budget for this school year, they anticipated having the typical 200 fewer students by January. Because much of SVUSD’s funding comes from the state, which allocates money based on average daily student attendance numbers, the higher than-anticipated enrollment figures will help the district’s finances, Peplinski said.

“Because we budgeted for a decline and are not seeing one, next year’s budget will be impacted positively by retaining more students than anticipated,” he said.

Enrollment dipped shortly after the school year began then jumped back up to 17,361 in December. Finch said it was difficult to pinpoint the cause of the enrollment fluctuations, but the numbers tend to change month to month as students enter and leave the district.

Finch said the district received a tiny boost in enrollment this semester after “about a handful” of new students transferred in from the San Fernando Valley’s Porter Ranch area, where hundreds of residents have been evacuated from their homes because of a natural gas line rupture at a Southern California Gas Co. plant.

Stemming enrollment loses, which have been as high as 500 students per school year in recent years, has been a top priority for Peplinski since he took over as superintendent in December 2014.

At a forum SVUSD held in November for members of the local real estate community, Peplinski said rising housing costs in the county were partly to blame for the district’s declining enrollment, since fewer families are able to afford to buy or rent homes in the city.

The district had also lacked educational alternatives for an increasing number of parents and students who are turning to charter schools and independent, Internet-based work-from-home programs. This year, SVUSD created a new program at Monte Vista School specifically for independent learners and to win those students back, Peplinski said in November.

Starting in August with 180 students, Monte Vista now has about 250 pupils, Principal Stephen Pietrolungo said.

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