November 14, 2003
For the first time in 24 years--after decades of steady enrollment increases--enrollment in the Long Beach Unified School District has leveled off. This fall, the total enrollment of California's third largest school district now stands at 97,454, down 96 students--one tenth of a percent--from the same time last year.
Enrollment decreased slightly in kindergarten through fifth grade and in seventh and ninth grades. Enrollment increased in sixth grade and tenth through twelfth grades.
It is too soon to tell if this is a temporary pause or the beginning of a trend. Elementary school enrollment usually increases from September through June. It did last year. If that happens again this school year, the total district enrollment could still climb and surpass last year's record enrollment of 97,550 students. Only time will tell.
With a leveling off of total enrollment, it appears that the former elementary school bulge in enrollment has now moved up into the middle and high schools. Overall, elementary enrollment here was down 1,243 students; middle school, up 659 students; high school, up 392 students; and charter schools and other programs, up 96 students.
The Long Beach Unified School District hopes to reduce overcrowding and be able to accommodate all students in the years immediately ahead. If enrollment remains at the present level, existing school bonds from Measure A, approved by local voters in 1999, should allow for enough schools and classrooms to be built to reduce overcrowding and busing. The bonds will also be used during this decade to upgrade many existing older schools that need modernization.
The current leveling off of enrollment is not unique to Long Beach. In fact, many other school districts in California have reported significant unexpected enrollment declines. The current state budget crisis and businesses leaving California may have contributed to the school enrollment change.
The largest Long Beach school enrollment decrease this fall occurred in kindergarten, with 340 fewer five year olds enrolling than last year. Birthrates in local hospitals are usually a reliable predictor of what kindergarten enrollments will look like five years later when those children enter school. However, changes in employment, higher housing costs and migration in or out of the state can change that picture.