FAIRFIELD — Solano County home prices that match the Bay Area, an aging population, smaller families and the lure of the Southwest.
They help explain, observers say, why enrollment at K-12 public schools in Solano County has dropped by nearly 10,000 students since the 2001-02 school year – even as the overall county population has increased by almost 20,000 residents since the start of the past decade.
Enrollment was 73,310 students in 2001-02 but dropped to 64,010 in the 2012-13 school year, according to figures from the California Department of Education.
Dave Gaut, a trustee for the Fairfield-Suisun School District, said Sullivan Middle School closed in 2011 because of enrollment declines. A total of 1,117 fewer students were enrolled last school year than in 2001-02, a drop that Gaut said is due in part to better economies in Texas and other states in the Southwest.
“A lot of families just can’t make it in California,” Gaut said of the recession.
David McCallum, president of the board of trustees for the Vacaville School District, connects the enrollment drop to the economy.
“People are becoming more mobile,” he said. “They’re going where the work is.”
Copart announced in 2011 that it was moving its corporate headquarters to Texas from Fairfield, where 334 people worked. The company holds online auctions of salvage vehicles. MV Transportation, which runs bus and paratransit services, said last year it was also moving to Texas.
Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said about 600 new schools will be built this year in the state. Many Californians have moved to the Austin area because of technology firms in the city – dramatically boosting home prices, she said.
“They’re used to paying higher prices,” Ratcliffe said of California transplants.
State Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Loma Rica, who is running against incumbent Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, to represent the 3rd Congressional District that includes much of Solano County, said government regulation has choked commerce and driven businesses out of California.
“We were the promised land,” Logue said.
Now the state is a government-created dustbowl with the worst business climate in the country, said Logue, who links the school enrollment decline in Solano County to overregulation.
Garamendi said student population has dropped for several reasons – including a fertility rate in California that has dropped dramatically in the past decade as well as families with fewer children.
Texas is not the magnet for California business that Logue makes it out to be, the congressman said. An ad blitz by the Southwest state about its advantages hasn’t brought a flight of business from here, he said.
“Evidence indicates very few firms proportionately have moved to Texas,” Garamendi said.
State Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, who represents the 11th District that includes a large part of Solano County, said that some California residents complain about regulations and threaten to move out of the state, but very few do so.
The severe national recession is among reasons for the enrollment drop here – not laws governing business, said Frazier, a general contractor and small business owner who was elected to the state Assembly in 2012.
Jay Speck, Solano County superintendent of schools, said recruiting teachers has sometimes been a challenge since Solano County home prices stopped being the bargain they were 10 years ago compared to the Bay Area.
“It was no cheaper to live here than San Jose,” Speck said of the reaction of teachers to current home prices here.
The enrollment decline is sharpest in the Vallejo City School District, which in 2001-02 had 20,034 students and last school year reported 15,157.
Superintendent Ramona Bishop, who began with the school district in 2011, said the Vallejo district is reversing the trend. Enrollment was dropping by about 500 students a year but slowed to 100 this year, she said, and may be up by about 100 next year.
Programs including instruction given in English and Spanish for all classes at the Cave Language Academy have helped reverse the enrollment trend, said the superintendent, who linked the decline to a misperception about Vallejo schools.
“We had a public image issue,” Bishop said. “I heard a lot about why people would not enroll.”
She declined to detail what that involved.
Enrollment at the Travis School District, which serves Travis Air Force Base and parts of Fairfield and Vacaville, was higher last school year by almost 200 students than in 2001-02. Assistant Superintendent Jim Bryan said enrollment is up this school year by about 36 students.
“We don’t have any real take on why,” he said.
Fairfield-Suisun schools trustee Gaut said enrollment increased this school year by about 200 students.
“It was a surprise,” Gaut said.
Solano County population between 2000 and 2012 rose by 19,244 residents, according to figures from the county administrator’s office. County schools superintendent Speck said most of the increase represents the elderly and working adults.
Enrollment in Solano Community College has dropped even more sharply than the K-12 schools. A total of 19,144 students were enrolled in the school year starting a decade ago while that number dropped to 12,864 last school year, figures from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office show.
Denis Honeychurch, a trustee for the college district, said the decline reflects a cutback in classes that followed state budget reductions. Solano College expects to increase enrollment as it restores classes, he said.
Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.