Saturday, March 04, 2006

Children Vanishing from Elk Grove, Population Growth Stumbles

Are Elk Grove children playing hooky this year? The Sacramento Bee reports on an abrupt slowing of student enrollment in the Elk Grove School District.

For a time, the Elk Grove Unified School District couldn't hire teachers fast enough. Student enrollment was rising by the thousands. Development was flourishing. The district added hundreds of new teachers each year...

But things changed suddenly this school year. Instead of adding 3,000 students as expected, the district grew by only 1,800. For the first time in years, the district didn't meet growth projections - no small matter when a flawed estimate could mean hiring more teachers than the district could afford. After 23 consecutive years of 3 percent growth or more, the district is projecting next year's growth to be 1.26 percent, or about 760 students over its current enrollment of 60,439...

It's difficult to estimate, she said, because its unknown whether this year's numbers are an anomaly or a trend. Some administrators believe the housing market has changed so much in Elk Grove that the period of growth is over. Others think the numbers will rise again. "There are a number of theories," Rosenstein said, noting that she believes some area developments, such as Madeira (Laguna Ridge), are proceeding slower than anticipated.
Or could it be all the unoccupied flipper homes that dot Elk Grove? Or perhaps all those new home cancellations?

Declining enrollment is not confined to Elk Grove. The Davis Enterprise reports a similar phenomenon in Davis.
According to Weber, the Davis district enrolled 8,768 students in 2002-03, the highest number ever. But the district lost 135 students in 2003-04, and another 11 students in 2004-05. Some months back, Weber projected the district would lose another 60 students this year. However, the decline has proved to be even a little steeper. Actual enrollment is down by 122 students, to 8,500.The Davis district is by no means unique in dealing with this problem. Roughly 40 percent of California school districts are experiencing declining enrollment.

The rapid increase of Davis home prices during the last five years is also believed to have made it more difficult for families with young children to buy homes in Davis. But the impact of this factor is difficult to measure.
Meanwhile, the Sacramento Bee reports that people are thinking twice before moving to the Sacramento area.
Lately, Sacramento County can hardly replace residents as fast as it loses them. Last year, the county's population grew at a slow pace not seen since the late 1990s, according to estimates released Thursday by the Demographic Research Unit of the state Department of Finance. The trend hit most surrounding counties and the rest of the state, too.

As of July 1, 2005, 1.38 million people lived in Sacramento County, up 1.6 percent from the previous year. That's the slowest rate of growth since 1998, state figures show. The biggest drop came in domestic migration: The number of people leaving for other parts of the United States almost matched the number who came here. International migration remained steady and births continued to outpace deaths. Even Placer County, which is growing faster than almost every other county in the state, saw its growth rate slip last year...

Wassmer and several other economic and demographic experts agree about the main cause of the trend: rising home prices. Just between 2003 and 2005, the median home sales price in the Sacramento metro area rose from about $250,000 to $375,000, according to the National Association of Realtors.

That means people living in Utah or Texas thinking about moving here might think again after seeing ballooning home prices. "Housing costs have increased. That starts to become a barrier," said Matt Mahood, president and CEO of the Sacramento Metro Chamber...

"This may be the sign of something," said Giovanni Peri, an associate professor of economics at the University of California, Davis. "If a state does not attract people from elsewhere, it could mean that the economy is slowing down. Normally, states that are doing well have been increasing ... their population."

Slower growth can be a good thing or a bad thing, several experts said. On one hand, a quick pace of growth is often a boon to the area's economy. It means more tax revenue and more jobs. "Fast growth means that you are going to be building more housing, retail - things like public infrastructure," said Howard Roth, chief economist at the state Department of Finance. With slow growth, "pretty much the opposite happens."

Fast growth also is good for the housing market. A healthy construction industry, some experts said, has had a lot to do with Sacramento's robust economy. And property owners usually love rising home prices...

No one is sure whether growth rates in the Central Valley and across California will continue to decline or if the trend has hit bottom. Dowell Myers, a professor of policy, planning and development at the University of Southern California, thinks it all depends on housing prices. If they level off and other states start to catch up, more people will relocate here. "It really is the big change," said Myers, referring to home prices.

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