Action in response to increasing enrollment and overcrowding at current elementary schools

Santa Cruz City Schools today announced its Board of Trustees voted at its meeting last night to re-open Natural Bridges Elementary school in order to address increased enrollment and overcrowding in grades K-5. At the District’s current elementary school sites, the district is serving 2,307 students. By the 2015-2016 school year, the total is conservatively estimated to be 2,422 students, with projections indicating approximately 50 additional students each year moving forward. The steady increase in enrollment is attributed to demographic shifts and the District’s sustained focus on small class sizes, funding for credentialed librarians and academic achievement.

Natural Bridges was selected as a solution because Santa Cruz City Schools owns the campus, which was closed by the District in 2004 and does not currently house any District programs. Since 2005, the site has been leased to Pacific Collegiate School (PCS), a charter school administered by the County Office of Education. Per the district’s Facilities Use Agreement with PCS, the District will provide PCS with two years’ notice of a request to move from the site, a possibility the District and PCS have discussed in recent weeks.

Decision Process

Superintendent Gary Bloom convened the Ad Hoc Facilities Committee to consider options and make recommendations to the Board of Trustees. In addition to Superintendent Bloom and Assistant Superintendent Meza, membership on the committee included principals, staff and parents representing all four elementary schools, as well as representatives from teacher and staff unions. The committee met twice, 2/14/13 and 3/21/13. Trustees received an informational update 2/27. A fact sheet and FAQ document were created and posted to the district website. In addition, Superintendent Bloom presented the issue to a 3/19 meeting of the Schools Coalition, which included administrators, teachers, parents and members of the Santa Cruz Education Foundation Board. The process culminated with a recommendation to re-open Natural Bridges from Superintendent Bloom to the Board of Trustees.

Next Steps

Led by Superintendent Bloom, a new committee with community and staff representation will be formed to advise administration and the school board in planning the reopening of the Natural Bridges campus. The committee will consider such issues as enrollment levels, attendance boundaries, program offerings and timelines. It is expected that the committee process and timeline will be determined by the end of the current school year, and that the committee will begin its work in the fall.

History

Following ten years of declining enrollment (1,264 students from 1995-2005), enrollment stabilized and has increased every year since 2006. To address declining enrollment, in 2003 the district shifted 6th grade to Branciforte and Mission Hill middle schools, and in 2004 the district closed Branciforte and Natural Bridges elementary schools. In 2005, the former Branciforte Elementary reopened as the Small Schools Campus, housing four programs including Monarch School, AFE, the Ark and Costanoa High School. Also in 2005, the former Natural Bridges Elementary was leased to PCS.

Budget Impact

Estimated costs to the district include:

  •  $1,000,000 – one-time facilities upgrades, using funds designated by law to be used solely for facilities improvements and repairs
  • $600,000 – ongoing expense for a principal, credentialed librarian and other support staff (no additional teachers will need to be hired)
  • The district will also no longer collect $340,000 in annual rent paid by PCS

These expenditures are expected to be covered by additional funding the District will receive as a result of the State Legislature’s decision to redirect city and county redevelopment funds to schools. The District currently maintains a budget reserve of 11% (state law requires a minimum of 3%). Ongoing expenses for additional staff needed at a new campus represent approximately 1% of the District’s current annual budget expenditures.