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Regional school enrollment up, but planners wary of citing a new trend

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Posted: Thursday, September 8, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 5:50 am, Thu Sep 8, 2011.

Enrollment in Lodi Unified School District schools is going up for the first time in years, although staff are reluctant to call it an about-face from recent trends.

“In the last four years we have been declining, but we have a slight turnaround this year,” said Tim Hern, the district’s chief business official. “The ray of hope is we have a larger-than-expected kindergarten class.”

There are 110 more kindergartners this year than last. If those students move on to first grade in Lodi Unified and a similar number of kindergartners take their place, Hern will be more comfortable calling it a trend reversal.

The figures are important because school districts receive state funding based on average daily attendance. Declining enrollment has affected budgets in recent years and contributed partly to an increased number of layoffs and cuts to extracurricular programs.

To date, there are 101 additional students enrolled in Lodi Unified than in 2010-11. School started Aug. 1.

School board president George Neely was also hesitant to view it as a turnaround.

“It’s too early, because of what’s going to happen in the middle of the year,” he said, regarding what’s known as the December slump, when families whose parents work in the fields move south and sometimes do not return here.

“It’s more fair to say the decline in enrollment has slowed down, which is great news for us. But I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up,” Neely added.

Since the first day of school, a mere 23 students have left. In the same time frame last year, enrollment had dropped by 203, according to Hern’s figures.

Other area schools, too, have seen a slight increase.

As of last week, Galt Joint Union High School District’s enrollment was 2,319, according to Superintendent Daisy Lee.

That’s 55 additional students over last year’s average daily attendance.

And Stockton Unified School District’s cumulative attendance rate for this school year is almost 1 percent higher than for the same period of time in 2010-11, according to that superintendent’s weekly newsletter.

“We are just in our fourth week of instruction and are already demonstrating improved attendance throughout the district,” Superintendent Carl Toliver wrote last month.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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