By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – At a recent two-by-two between the city and school district, Superintendent Matt Best presented the latest school district data on projections for declining enrollment while Vice Mayor Will Arnold and Councilmember Josh Chapman agreed to look into future ways for the city and school district to collaborate to increase housing for young families.
The data first laid out in the spring shows that since 2005-06 resident enrollment has declined by about 1244 students, or an average of 78 annually, and that trend, according to projections from Davis demographics, is expected to continue into the foreseeable future.
That trend has been largely but not fully offset by an increase in enrollment of students from outside the school district—those who live outside of Davis but attend school here, primarily because they have parents who work for the city, school district or university, many of whom cannot afford to live here.
“That number is growing over time,” said Best. “There were about 200 non-resident students in Davis Joint Unified in 2005 and currently there’s around 1,100.
“This district would look fundamentally different than it does today with 1,100 fewer students,” Best noted. “Really, we are filling the seats on a plane that have been vacated by resident students with non-resident students.”
However, he said, “the number of non-resident students can’t keep up with the decline of resident students, so that’s a really important thing for us to be thinking about as a community. This has implications on the district… our ability to offer excellent programs, neighborhood schools and schools where students can walk or bike easily.”
Vice Mayor Will Arnold deferred additional comment until the matter comes before the city council—possibly as soon as November.
From a fiscal standpoint, a consistent and prolonged decline in students would strain the school district’s finances.
Josh Chapman is concerned that at some point the district will reach “a saturation point” where “you’re not going to just continue to grow the number of interjurisdictional people coming here… When you get to that point, what does that mean for Davis schools?”
Chapman noted that “the main reason why people move here is because of the quality of schools. So I think that this issue has such a direct impact on families across the town in general.”
This is one area where the city has a direct impact on the school district. And of course this all comes back to housing.
Chapman said, “What we talked about the in meeting was how do we get more proactive when it comes to housing in this community? And how do we grow the number of families that are, that are living here who have school-aged children so that they can attend schools here and can be part of this community?”
The council members were open to having the school district come and make a presentation to the full city council on this.
Councilmember Chapman said, “In my opinion, this directly is related to the lack of housing that we have in our community and specifically affordable housing.”
For Josh Chapman there needs to be a connection between “what we treasure in our community—greenbelts, parks and our schools” and his “fundamental piece around the quality of our schools, the number of students that we have here, and the ability for families to move here to make our community more inclusive is really kind of at this point—where we’re at the tipping point.”
Chapman noted, “I think there are tools that the city can use and that we can put into play that can spur some development.”
He believes such a conversation really needs to be led by the city council with input from the community around what they want to see.
The Vanguard has frequently noted that there has been a silo approach to these issues. The school district is viewed in one silo and the city is viewed in another, but there is really an interaction between the two.
“This is one of the things that we can hopefully, can work together on,” Chapman said. “What does that mean? How do we free up some housing for families to move into them? But again, those are market rate houses. So how do we step back and what does the city do that we have control over? That we can partner with the district and we can partner with other organizations to step back and look at what some of our assets are. We want to really take an opportunity to step back and analyze what we have here in the community.”
Affordable housing units are a big part of this picture, which would allow people to move into, with a great benefit to the school district.
Chapman talked about the downtown plan, but also looking at what land the city has and looking at partnering with groups on some type of RFP (Request for Proposals) that “could then be used to build some affordable housing on it.”