Modesto schools' enrollment drops

Modesto schools enrolled fewer students this year, especially in the elementary grades, according to a report released Monday to the Modesto City Schools Board of Education.

The latest enrollment figures show 360 fewer elementary school students, 240 fewer junior high school students and 40 fewer high school students enrolled this year compared with the 2006-2007 year.

Since 2001, elementary schools lost more than 2,000 students, with about 12,770 expected to enroll this year.

"It appears the annual declines are starting to slow down," said Miguel Galvez, director of facilities, development and support.

No one spoke Monday night about the reason for the decline.

The state funds school districts based on the number of students in class each day, so lower enrollment ultimately means budget cuts.

District administrators also presented for the first time charts showing gaps in student achievement on state tests based on student ethnicity and native language.

Those numbers showed that many of the gaps between white students and other groups, such as blacks and Latinos, have not decreased in recent years. The percentage of English-learners scoring proficient on state English tests remained flat, far behind their native English-speaking peers.

"We're finally learning how large the achievement gap is, and it's disheartening," west Modesto activist Michael Garcia said.

Trustee Connie Chin said the number of Asian sophomores passing the high school exit exam in Modesto was 7 to 10 percentage points behind the average passing rates of Asian students statewide. She asked district administrators if more could be done to get information to parents in their native language about the high-stakes test.

"I'd really like to see a change in the passing rates for this group," she said.

Discord over Gregori High School

In other action, the board unanimously voted to reject the three bids to build Gregori High School in Salida. The bids, which ranged from nearly $103 million to $107 million, exceeded the funds set aside so far for the school's construction.

The issue prompted heated exchanges between board members and Modesto Teachers Association executive director Barney Hale.

"Despite all the promises that have been made, there's not enough money to build Gregori High," he said.

The district is moving forward with its backup plan, called lease-leaseback construction.

That method would allow the district to agree on a fixed price of construction with a builder and pay back the cost of the school in monthly payments after construction is finished.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.