Students disappearing from El Tejon School District

LEBEC, Calif.-- A curious phenomena is happening in the El Tejon Unified School District. Students once filing district classrooms have been disappearing from roll sheets.

Enrollment hit an all time low this year after peaking in 1996. Veteran Math and Science teacher Mark Hellman said the trend has continued to get worse across the district.

"At this site, we were using every classroom, we had four classes of every grade," said Hellman, who teaches at El Tejon school.

Figures show the district had a total of 1,433 students enrolled in grades k-12 in 1996. Since then enrollment has been declining. According to superintendent Katie Kleier, enrollment is down to 980 students in 2012, which is a drop of 32 percent.

Senior Planner Peter Smith with Kern Council of Governments attributes much of the decline in the area to people having fewer children.

"The number of school aged children between 5-19 has dropped," said Smith.

In 2000, there were 1,748 young people between the ages of 5-19 in the area served by El Tejon Unified. That number dropped in 2010 to 1,123, a decline of 625 young people, said Smith.

"It happens a lot in areas that are economically depressed," said Smith.

The decline has taken a financial toll as well. Schools receive funding based on enrollment. Fewer students means fewer dollars from the state. The toll is compounded as the district has had to lay off staff and teachers and combined classes, creating more crowded classrooms.

Books are worn and tattered and there are virtually no extra curricular activities for students. Classrooms at El Tejon School sit vacant and used for storage and two portables are no longer in use.

Another factor contributing to the declining enrollment are the parents choosing to home school their children. Some criticize the school district for not doing a better job to maintain the students it does have.

"A lot of people are starting to look elsewhere for school," said Josh Kern who graduated from Frazier Mountain High School in 2010.

The district has hired a firm called Public Consulting from Sacramento to conduct a study on the impact of its declining enrollment and what action to take. Options include possibly closing a campus.

The study isn't expected to be completed until October and then presented to the school board for action.