Enrollment decline challenges districts, resulting in potential layoffs

First-grade teachers, Samantha Iblings, right, and Kristen Chapman socially distance as the plan their lessons in a classroom at West Creek Academy in Santa Clarita on Wednesday, 020321. Dan Watson/The Signal

School districts across the Santa Clarita Valley endured an ever-changing school year that included sudden classroom-setting changes, cancellation of events and now a significant decrease in student enrollment — which has led to some teachers receiving notices about potential layoffs, if the funding situation doesn’t improve. 

All four elementary school districts and the William S. Hart Union High School District have seen some form of enrollment decline, some more drastic than others, since the transition to distance learning last year. 

“Because student enrollment has a direct effect on budget issues, if there’s low enrollment, that would result in the need to lay off some staff members,” said Superintendent Jeff Pelzel of the Newhall School District. 

Each year, school districts are required to notify staff by March 15 of certificated layoffs, in order to be in compliance with the California Department of Education Code. The notification informs certificated staff, such as teachers, if their contracts will not be extended through the following school year. 

Saugus Union School District saw the most significant enrollment decline, with a more-than 600-student enrollment difference from the previous year, according to superintendent Colleen Hawkins. 

“We’re seeing a very low enrollment rate in (transitional kindergarten) and kindergarten classrooms,” Hawkins said. “This has caused us to have to look at 11 positions in the district.” 

Hawkins added from the 11 positions, 20 staff members were given the layoff notice and 13 other staff members have retired. “We’re making every effort we possibly can to use our existing funding to rescind the notices,” Hawkins said. 

The notices are only the first step of the certificated layoffs, Hawkins said, and if circumstances change or if enrollment increases again, the notices can be rescinded and teacher’s contracts can be extended. 

Castaic Union, Newhall, Sulphur Springs and Hart school districts did not send notices to staff, although they have all seen a decrease in student enrollment since last March. 

“We were projected to have a decline in students this year even before COVID-19,” said CUSD Superintendent Steve Doyle. “The decline is slightly more than projected. We are now starting to get additional families enrolling in our schools now that we have opened for in person instruction.” 

School officials from each district expressed optimism with enrollment rates now that schools are able to reopen for in-person instruction following a decline in COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County. 

“We’re anxiously looking forward to people returning to the district,” said Hawkins. “Now that we’re seeing kids come back in the classroom, we’ll hopefully see the enrollment numbers go up too.” 

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