Board members say more closures likely

Enrollment dips again; pattern may continue through 2011

The news that San Francisco’s public schools enrolled 1,000 fewer students this school year has put pressure on the district’s school board to consider school closures or mergers for the third consecutive year.

For the past six years, enrollments have been declining in San Francisco’s public schools and will continue to drop through 2011, according to a demographic study done for the district in 2002.

The loss of students is due to a reduction in the number of births in San Francisco, according to the study. District officials also point to San Francisco’s high cost of living and housing prices as driving forces that push families out of The City.

Last year, the district also enrolled 1,000 fewer students. This year’s loss of another 1,000 students means the district is receiving about $11 million less in state funding than it did two years ago, because the district annually receives approximately $5,500 per student enrolled. Enrollment is estimated at less than 57,000 students at 110 schools.

“If we don’t do school closures this year, we’ll definitely have to do some next year,” said veteran school board member Dan Kelly, who said discussions about possible school closures and mergers are likely to begin in January.

In the past two years, the school board has voted to close seven schools and merge four schools into two sites.

Underenrolled schools that were considered for closure, merger or relocation last year will likely be looked at again this year, Kelly said.

That worries Dena Fisher, the parent of preschool-aged twin boys, who has had her eye on Daniel Webster Elementary School, her neighborhood school in Potrero Hill. Last year, Fisher and other parents and community members successfully fought against a proposal to merge Daniel Webster with another nearby elementary school. Daniel Webster lost 48 students from last year to this school year, according to enrollment counts during the first two weeks of school this fall.

Fisher said the group has been working throughout the school year to raise money for the school and redesign its recruitment materials — and is ready to fight again to keep it open, if necessary.

School board member Eric Mar said he fears that the school closure process — fraught with emotion as parents, students and teachers plead to keep their schools from being shuttered — has pushed some parents toward private schools. In 2002, about 25 percent of San Francisco’s school-aged children attended private schools, compared with a state average of about 10 percent.

Kelly said he felt the district needed to do a better job of marketing it’s public schools.

“There’s always been the attitude here, the kids will come. Now we have competition from private and parochial schools, but also charter schools,” Kelly said. “But I don’t think they’re better than public schools.”

beslinger@examiner.com

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