SAN RAFAEL (KPIX 5) — Student enrollment in San Rafael schools has dropped so much that the district will close one of its schools next year, the latest in a trend that’s happening throughout Marin County.
Short Elementary School in San Rafael will shut down at the end of this school year because it’s short on students.
“Last year we kind of planned on phasing it out. So this year, the board voted on Monday night to actually close it,” said San Rafael Schools Superintendent Jim Hogeboom.
The district has seen declines in elementary school enrollment for the last few years and throughout Marin County, 1,000 fewer students are attending schools. Novato is also considering closing a school.
Last year, Mill Valley cancelled its Transitional Kindergarten program because it attracted only 61 students. The problem may be that older people who used to move out when their kids were gone now have to stay.
“I can’t downsize. I can’t, unless I move totally out of this area,” said long time San Rafael resident Paula Kotzen.
So seniors are opting to “age in place” in their empty nests. In fact, data shows only 30% of homes in Marin County have children living in them.
“Older people staying in place is keeping younger families from coming in,” said Superintendent Hogeboom, “plus, just the cost of housing is keeping people from coming in as well.”
With the median home price at more than $1 million, only the wealthiest young families can afford to move to the area. Alex Peters says he’s noticed the change.
“It seems like there’s less children than there were, definitely, 10 to 15 years ago,” he said.
The school district isn’t too worried about it. They plan to hold on to the Short Elementary School property and they just created a committee to decide how to repurpose the facility.
They actually opened the school during an enrollment boom 10 years ago when the foreclosure crisis was keeping house prices down. The district sees this as part of a natural cycle. But Peters isn’t so sure about that.
“Prices are not changing,” he said. “Things are not getting more reasonable, they’re getting more expensive all the time. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years it’s really…it’s a trend, not just a cycle.”
This isn’t a problem that’s unique to Marin County, they just have a bit more of what makes it happen: a severe housing shortage and an aging population with nowhere else to go.