Published Sept. 6, 2023
BY SARA EYJOLFSDOTTIR
An enrollment drop of roughly 60 students at CHS has somewhat paradoxically placed a heavier load on teachers as CUSD chooses to not backfill empty teaching positions, with districts across Monterey County experiencing a similar trend.
While it is unclear whether this lower enrollment will solidify itself as a trend over the next few years, this year’s drop from 858 students last year to a current total of 806 goes beyond the usual ebb and flow typically observed in schools.
“Maybe you lose five kids here and there,” says assistant vice principal Laurel Gast, whose previous school district in North Monterey County also experienced a similar drop in enrollment, “but this big chunk of kids and each class getting smaller is something that’s relatively new.”
Contributing to this lower enrollment is a significantly smaller freshman class, leaving a class of 175-180 students as opposed to the standard 200-220 which has been observed for years, says English department chair Barbara McBride. For teachers such as Kevin Buran, his class sizes for Honors Biology, a predominantly freshman class, have dropped by about three to five kids.
For a number of years, nine total class periods, or sections, of English have been offered to grades 9-11 and eight for seniors, compensating for standard student attrition. This year, only seven English sections are offered to freshmen, with the district opting to cut two full sections, both in honors.
“Across the board it probably cuts a section of class out,” says McBride, who added two sections to her schedule this year, “but I think it went a little too far with my department at least.”
Some CHS teachers work at 120% contract, known as a 1.2 schedule, teaching six classes instead of the full-time schedule of five classes and two prep periods. This year, four out of seven of the teachers in the English department are 1.2 teachers.
“Anytime there is the chance that our class sizes are going to go up, it increases our stress and is also detrimental to the education of our students because we have less one-on-one time … and less time to give them the time and feedback that we want to give them,” English teacher Shelley Grahl says. “It just makes us as a department nervous because we know we always have big numbers, being the only class that all students have to take all four years.”
This majority of the English department working beyond their contracts can be attributed to the heavier load placed on the teachers following the district’s decision to not replace English teacher Pat Robel following his retirement last year.
“If this continues to be a trend,” Gast says, “what’s going to happen is as people retire, we just may see less staff here.”
If CHS ends up with an enrollment in the mid-700s, 1.2 teachers will likely return to working at 100% contract as sections are cut out, McBride says. This outcome could present itself within the next three to four years when looking at Carmel Middle School enrollment, which has experienced a drop of roughly a hundred students.
While an exact cause for these widespread enrollment drops cannot be exactly pinpointed, California’s general population has declined by roughly 500,000 people since a population decline was first recorded in 2020, USA Today reports. Cost of living is cited as the leading cause for this exodus.
“There’s been more people leaving California just based on the cost of living, and that’s impacting everywhere,” says assistant principal Ernesto Pacleb, who also experienced a loss of roughly 150 students last year at his previous workplace in Salinas Union School District.
Schools across the peninsula, including Carmel, Salinas and Monterey, have experienced drops in enrollments, most likely due to that higher cost of living, Pacleb says.
Within the district, Carmel River School has been closed since 2009 to interdistrict transfers, where students of faculty not living within the district service area are able to attend Carmel schools, requiring these students to attend Tularcitos due to consistent overcrowding at River. This year, eighteen years later, River School was reopened for those interdistrict transfers, indicating newfound room for enrollment even at the elementary level, McBride says.
“We end up seeing young families with young kids who either choose to or can’t afford to move here,” McBride says. “It starts at the lower levels and then works its way up.”
Lower enrollment in the district’s elementary schools could be a strong indication of a trend over the coming years as those numbers directly impact the higher levels, McBride speculates. Any anomalies at the lower levels trickle up to CHS eventually.
“Numbers are decreasing everywhere,” Pacleb says. “Obviously it’s gone down this year, so we’ll see really what the trend is over the next couple years.”