Enrollment at Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is expected to significantly decline over the next nine years, according to a detailed study of enrollment projections by consultant DecisionInsite.

This was no shock to the district, as enrollment has already decreased over the past several years as a result of a more restrictive district policy that has the goal of reducing overcrowding in Santa Monica-Malibu schools.

The district will use this data for staffing allocations in the 2008-09 school year, for projects in the Facilities Master Plan and to better plan for budgets.

Both a “conservative” and a “moderate” projection were created for the district. Conservative projections are typically used for budget planning purposes, while moderate projections are more suitable for facilities planning purposes, DecisionInsite said.

Both projections forecast a “significant decline” in enrollment until 2017, based upon the historical enrollment trends the district is experiencing and outside factors related to census data.

With enrollment in the district at approximately 11,300 in 2007, the conservative projection forecasts enrollment at just over 9,600 in 2012 and at approximately 8,600 in 2017 — a reduction in 2,700 students.

Under the moderate projection, based on 11,300 in 2007, enrollment is forecast at about 10,500 in 2012 and just over 10,200 in 2017 — a reduction in 1,100 students.

The three Santa Monica schools expected to experience the most change in enrollment in the next four years — under the moderate projection — are Will Rogers, Grant and McKinley Elementary Schools.

Deputy superintendent Tim Walker thinks the results are an accurate indication of what the district can expect — given the data available to the district and DecisionInsite.

“I believe that the data is very timely, as the district has some decisions to make related to the creation of our budget for the 2008-2009 school year,” Walker said. “Part of the decision process is building in the proposed cuts identified by the governor by bringing forward budget reductions that may include: making adjustments to our staffing at all levels; exploring other sources of revenue; [and] addressing the declining enrollment by taking a closer look at our permit policy.”

The district understands the impact of declining enrollment — less state funding.

Walker points out that, “Although declining enrollment does not have an immediate impact on districts, given the pending budget issues at the state level, the district will be looking very closely at making strategic cuts to reduce the impact of future reductions in educational funding provided by the state.”

Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association union president Harry Keiley says that, if it’s necessary to make reductions in staffing in Santa Monica-Malibu, the union will urge the school board to do it as far away from the classroom as possible.

“Should there be a reduction in the teaching staff which results from the decline in student enrollment, it can be absorbed through natural attrition and retirements,” says Keiley.

This was actually done by the district before the start of the 2007-08 school year.

Because of declining enrollment and to more appropriately align teaching positions with the actual number of students enrolled in the school district, the district reduced the number of teachers by 26 through attrition and retirements.

Currently, district staff is sharing the enrollment projection data with district schools and making initial recommendations for staffing for the 2008-09 school year.