By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
School District Numbers Down
Everything went smoothly ... but numbers are down and that is cause for concern in the Escalon Unified School District.

Monday, Aug. 17 was the first day of school for the 2009-2010 school year. Students returned to campuses throughout the district, kindergarten students eager to start on their educational journey, sixth graders getting welcomed to the El Portal campus for the first time, and high schoolers heading back to EHS.

"I was out at four of the schools today and everything seemed to be very, very smooth," Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Dave Mantooth noted on Monday. "In the hallways at Escalon High School and El Portal, everyone knew where they were supposed to be and when the bell rang, they were there."

On the Dent campus, anxious parents and grandparents sent off kindergarten students on their new adventure, with some children willingly entering the class and others needing a little more encouragement.

Six kindergarten classes are offered this year at Dent and among the teachers is returning veteran Mary Melen, who was happily greeting her new class on Monday morning.

"I can't wait, it's going to be a great year," Mrs. Melen said. "Lots of learning, lots of fun."

Young Hannah Wood was quick to report back from the playground with an early alert.

"There's red ants in a giant pile," she told her classmates.

Other children were busy finding their cubbies to put items in and hanging up their brand new backpacks on hooks by their name.

"She is excited," Teresa Olson said of her daughter, 5-year-old Grace. "She's tired of mommy taking pictures. She is my second to go, my son is in seventh grade. She's ready."

Pam Scheer was helping son Anthony, 5, find his cubby and noted that he was also eager to be starting school, something he has looked forward to during the summer.

"I'm excited," offered Mollie Fritzler, 5. "I like reading."

In terms of sheer numbers, they are not good. Mantooth reported a first day enrollment of 2,918 students, down significantly from last year's first week final total of 3,076.

"We graduated a big (senior) class last year, we have 177 students entering into kindergarten," Mantooth said.

Numbers at the high school, Sierra View and Vista are roughly the same as last year, with Collegeville, Van Allen and Dent all seeing a drop in enrollment. Farmington, with a few more students, is up just slightly.

"We lost a large fifth grade class and that hasn't been balanced out by the incoming kindergarten," Mantooth noted of the drop in the rural schools.

Final school numbers for the 2008-2009 school year showed the district at an enrollment of 3,026 or basically 100 more students than enrolled on opening day this year.

That opening day figure will likely change, Mantooth said, as students drift in during the first week. But it will have to change dramatically - on the upswing - for the district's financial picture to improve.

"Over the long term, that will have a tremendous impact," he said. "We're in our fifth year of declining enrollment, it was 20 to 25 the first three years, a loss of 50 last year."

That will translate into fewer state dollars coming in, fewer students and, by virtue of that, fewer teachers on staff.

"A couple years ago, I think housing costs were the factor," Mantooth said of not drawing families to the area. Where the kids are going now, I don't know ... we're not getting young families with kids moving in."

Escalon, he added, has "always been a district of choice" but even they are seeing fewer interdistrict transfer requests, as home school districts are more reluctant to allow students to leave, because with them goes the state aid money they would bring in to their home district.

"There are a lot of factors," Mantooth said of the declining enrollment. "It won't affect what we are doing now."

School sites will "do some juggling" based on where the needs are identified this year, with no cuts in staff coming because of the lower than anticipated enrollment.

"At the high school and middle school, we did reduce staffing at those sites" prior to the start of the year, Mantooth said, so no more cuts are coming now.

However, staff reductions will be part of the discussions when negotiations for next year begin.

"At the end of the week we'll have a better picture," said Mantooth. "But across the board, every grade level lost a couple in every class."

School board members got a first look at the opening day enrollment figures at their Tuesday night meeting, Aug. 18 and Mantooth said he will continue to update them throughout the week as the numbers fluctuate, hopefully with more students coming in.

Budget woes and declining enrolment aside, the focus was firmly on getting off on the right educational foot on Monday.

"Wave goodbye to mom and dad," Mrs. Melen told her students as they lined up on the playground and got ready to head to class. "Have a great day."