By Charles Reichmann
Last month voters in Kensington cast their ballots overwhelmingly in favor of a bond initiative (Measure E) and an extension of a parcel tax (Measure G) that will raise funds for the West Contra Costa County Unified School District.
Even though school bond tax rates are already far higher than those in any other school district in Contra Costa County, the measures passed with greater support from Kensington voters than from those living in other areas within the District. According to the County’s Official Results, the bond measure was approved by 64.39% of the electorate but by 67.13% of the voters in Kensington. At 75.61% the parcel tax extension also won broad support across the District, but in Kensington 84.53% of voters supported extending the tax.
The results at the ballot box show that Kensington supports WCCUSD with its dollars beyond other areas within the District. But do Kensington families “support” the WCCUSD in a different way, by actually enrolling their children in its schools?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that once Kensington families enter the public school system they don’t stay there for long, but I wanted hard evidence. I first turned to 2010 U.S. Census information to see how many children live in Kensington. (A copy of the U.S. Census’ Demographic Profile Data for Kensington is attached to this article.) In 2010 there were 230 pre-school children (aged 0 to 5) counted as residents in Kensington. Interestingly, the population of children spiked upward once the kids hit school age: there were 40% more children (322 v. 230) in the 5 to 9 year-old age group. This suggests families move to Kensington for the public schools.
This population gain is, however, short-lived. In the next cohort (ages 10 to 14) the number of Kensington residents declined to 250, a drop of about 22%. The population decline accelerated among older students: in 2010 there were only 185 people aged 15 to 19 living in Kensington. This fact can be explained partially by the likelihood that some of those in the upper reaches of this group headed off to college away from home. But why were there only 250 children in the group of students comprised of fifth through ninth graders (ages 10 to 14) as compared to the 322 in the group of kindergartners through fourth graders (ages 5 to 9)? Some families apparently move away from Kensington once their kids are in sight of middle school.
Number of Children in Kensington – 2010 US Census
To find out how many Kensington children attended WCCUSD schools, I sent a California Public Records Act request to the District asking for an enumeration of Kensington residents attending District schools by school of enrollment and grade level. (A copy of the District’s response is attached.) Of the Kensington children enrolled in District grade schools, records show that virtually all attend Kensington Hilltop. Over the past three years enrollment of Kensington kids in Hilltop’s seven grade levels has stood at about 350, or about 50 students per grade level. There is typically not an even distribution among grade levels with enrollment in fifth and sixth grades generally lower than in other grades. For example, in the 2011-12 academic year 58 Kensington children attended Kindergarten at Hilltop whereas only 28 were enrolled in sixth grade.
The Census data tells us only the number of children in Kensington and does not tell us what percentage of Kensington children attends WCCUSD schools. Recall there were 322 children in the 5 to 9 group and 250 in the 10 to 14 group. Perhaps three fifths of this latter group (those aged 12 to 14) were too old to be enrolled in Hilltop, leaving a balance of approximately 100 children still of elementary school age. When we add this number to the 322 students the Census enumerated in the 5 to 9 group it appears there were about 422 children in Kensington eligible to enroll at Hilltop of which 346 (82%) actually attended Hilltop during the 2010-2011 academic year.
But how many of the approximately 350 Kensington kids who attend Hilltop in a given year will go on to Portola and El Cerrito High School? (Substantially all Kensington children who go on to WCCUSD secondary schools go to these two schools.) Over the past three years enrollment of Kensington kids at Portola has stood at 24, 17, and 28 and enrollment at ECHS has stood at 53, 59, and 51. Total annual enrollment of Kensington kids in the six grades serviced by these schools has thus stayed constant between 76 -79 students a year, or about 13 students per grade level. This number is only about one quarter of the 50 Kensington kids who enroll in an average grade at Hilltop.
While these numbers show that enrollment of Kensington kids in District secondary schools is only about 25% of that of Hilltop, it probably isn’t safe to conclude from these calculations that fully one quarter of the students who matriculate to Hilltop will go on to secondary school within the District. That number is likely smaller as is evidenced by the larger number of students typically found in Hilltop’s earlier grades. And given that not all Kensington kids of elementary school age ever attend Hilltop, the percentage of kids resident in Kensington who end up attending Portola and ECHS is lower still.
The numbers don’t explain why only about a quarter of Kensington kids continue within the District on to middle and high school. What the data do show, however, is that “support” of the District at the ballot box does not mean that Kensington families keep their kids in the District through high school. For current purposes it will be enough to have shown that some families move to Kensington for Hilltop and some move away before Portola, and that although the voters in Kensington have overwhelmingly supported the WCCUSD at the ballot box, only a minority continues to “support” the District when it comes time to decide where their children will attend secondary school.
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