Children and Youth

OPINION: County school enrollment up since 1997-98, but down from 2004-05 peak

Reasons for 11-year overall steady decline in county public school enrollment are not clear

From 1975 to 1995, San Benito County had the 10th highest growth rate in the state with a population increase exceeding 107 percent. Between 1993 and 1997, only four years, the population of San Benito County surged 7,212 (18 percent), 39,495 to 46,707. That was a year-over-year growth rate of 4.3 percent and public school enrollment went right along with it, according to data from the California Department of Education. Enrollments increased 1,760 (20 percent), 8,719 to 10,479; a year-over-year growth rate of 4.7 percent.

Over the next 18 years, the county population has increased another 12,085 (25 percent) from 46,707 to 58,792, a year-over-year growth rate of 1.4 percent. However, the total enrollment growth as of 2015-2016 was only 635 (6.1 percent) from 10,479 to 11,114; a year-over-year enrollment growth rate of less than 0.4 percent, one-third of the population growth rate. The state's total enrollment growth for the same period was 8.7 percent.

A decline in actual enrollment has occurred over the last 11 years. Enrollment reached its peak of 11,737 in 2004-05, then it dropped 623 (-5.3 percent) to 11,114 by 2015-2016. It is not clear whether this decline is due to changes in demographics, an increase in registrations out-of-county where parents work, an increase in the use of private schools or some combination of these or other factors.

The federal government projects a national pattern of annual enrollment increases is to begin with a slight increase in fall 2015 and continue at least through fall 2024; however, that may not apply locally.

During the 1993-94 to 1997-98 surge, more than 93 percent of the increased local enrollment occurred in three school districts: Aromas/San Juan added 183 students (17 percent), Hollister added 958 students (22 percent) and San Benito High added 503 students (24 percent). Most of the smaller districts also added significant percentages.

The patterns have changed since 1996-97, but this may have involved changes in boundaries and/or assignments. 

The Aromas/San Juan peak, 1,427, occurred in 2000-01, earlier than for the rest of the county; since that time, the district lost 277 enrollments to 1,150 (-19 percent). 

North County stayed relatively steady until 2008-09 then jumped from 564 to 674 and eventually to 760 in 2015-16, adding 196 enrollments (35 percent) in the process.

Both the Hollister School District and San Benito High School have added enrollments since the surge, but are down from their peaks. Hollister added 254 enrollments to 5,654 (5.7 percent) since 1997-08, but is down 626 (-10.0 percent) from its peak of 6,280 in 2002-03. SBHS has added 386 (18.2 percent) to 3,010 since 1997-08, but is down 149 (-4.7 percent) from its peak of 3,159 in 2007-08.

Our local governments and education agencies need to understand the causes of these significant variances to make reasonable predictions about the impacts for the future.

Marty Richman

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Marty (Martin G.) spent his teen years in northern New Jersey. He served more than 22 years on active military duty, mostly in Europe, and is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4, Nuclear Weapons Technical Officer. Marty then worked 25 years in various engineering and management positions in the electronics and energetic materials industries supporting the communications, computer, aerospace, defense and automotive sectors. He is a graduate, summa cum laude, from The College of Hard Knocks, among his numerous awards and accomplishments. He was a regular weekly Op/Ed columnist and feature writer for The Hollister Free Lance for seven years and a member of its editorial board for five years. Marty is a frequent commentator and contributor to BenitoLink on a wide variety of local, state, national and international subjects.   Marty was elected to represent the City of Hollister District 4 on the City Council in November, 2018. Marty and his wife, Joyce, have been residents of Hollister since 1996.