District Staff May Begin Advertising Spots in Malibu Schools

Data shows gradual decline in Malibu school enrollment since 2005, while population appears to remain fairly steady, but recent population data is unavailable.

This story has been updated. Please see editor’s note.

New projected enrollment numbers for Malibu’s public schools in the 2015-16 school year show an expected decline of 57 students — the continuation of a trend that’s been fairly regular for the past decade, a fact that has the district looking for solutions.

One of these solutions could be advertising for students from “over the hill” to apply to attend Malibu schools.

“We will look at permit applications. It isn’t unheard of that we might take out an ad, for example in a paper over on the other side of the hill,” Assistant Superintendent Mark Kelly said.

Kelly presented numbers for enrollment and staffing projections for the upcoming school year to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education during its Thursday, March 19 meeting.

Those projections show an expected decline in students at every Malibu school for the upcoming school year, when grouping Malibu High and Malibu Middle Schools together.

Juan Cabrillo Elementary is expected to drop to 220 from 235, where it was in 2013-14. There are currently 224 students enrolled at the school.

Pt. Dume Marine Science School is anticipated to experience an even sharper drop, losing over 30 students in the same three-year span, according to the prediction. 

Webster Elementary, which had 343 students in 2013, is expected to drop to 306 by 2016.

Kelly stressed that these are conservative estimates and actual enrollment numbers could be higher.

“You see a slight decline on this, but that number you see there is a conservative projection,” Kelly said. 

The Malibu numbers are in contrast to Santa Monica’s enrollment, where some schools are projected to lose students but several are also expected to remain stable or gain students.

This led to questions from board members about solutions to what could add up to a costly trend.

“Something I encourage schools to look at is the opportunity to, whenever they can, to stabilize enrollment using some of the permit opportunities that are open to us.”

Kelly was referring to Interdistrict Permits, which allow students to apply to attend public schools outside of their district boundaries.

Bolstering enrollment with permits can help boost district budgets in places like Malibu, where total enrollment has fallen by nearly 25% since 2004-05, when total enrollment was 2,398. There are currently 1,834 students attending public schools in Malibu.

Board Vice President Jose Escarce explained during the meeting that part of this decline came from a change in permit requirements, but added that it would be beneficial to recruit for Malibu schools.

“Several of our schools in Malibu are shrinking pretty dramatically actually, and my question is whether we are doing anything special to generate students for Malibu schools,” Escarce asked Kelly.

“You’ve told us that despite decreasing enrollment, staffing is the same, so it’s like, the marginal revenue is all revenue, right? There’s no marginal cost, and so it’s really the ideal situation,” Escarce said.

The federal government provides school districts with an average of over $10,000 per student, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a department under the U.S. Department of Education.

According to numbers provided by district spokesperson Gail Pinsker, SMMUSD receives a baseline amount ranging from about $7,000 to $8,500 per student, depending on grade level, from the federal government.

Escarce’s “all revenue” prediction was referring to staffing numbers presented by Kelly, that show no planned decline in staffing at any Malibu schools for the upcoming school year, despite drops in enrollment.

Also in Kelly’s presentation was the goal staffing ratios for each grade level, which Malibu schools all hit or surpassed this school year and are predicted to achieve again in 2015-16.

These numbers are 24:1 in kindergarten through third grade, 30:1 in fourth through fifth grade, 34:1 in sixth through eighth grade and 35:1 in ninth through 12th grade.

“You’ve described almost the ideal situation for trying to generate more permitted students,” Escarce said.

“We could do some things like advertise in local papers,” Kelly said.

As to why this trend exists, answers are harder to come by.

“My question is, whether the decline [is] due to a decline in residents,” asked Escarce. “I assume it is, and that’s what I’d like to verify.”

“I think it is,” said Kelly.

The issue of PCBs and whether the number of Malibu parents, including local celebrities like Cindy Crawford, Anson Williams and Josh Malina, along with parent activists, who withdrew their children from Malibu public schools, has participated in the decline, was not addressed at the meeting.

Board member Craig Foster, the only School Board representative from Malibu, was not available for comment on the day this story went to press. However, Foster did speak cautiously in favor of looking into the idea of advertising for Malibu schools, though he did not commit to the merits of the idea.

“I think there’s an average cost consideration and there’s a cost over time, but I think in this micro conversation, I absolutely agree,” Foster said.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story did not include specific numbers for government funding per student in the district.