School lack of growth might be attributed to housing cost

Rising home prices may be one factor forcing young families to surrounding counties, causing Carson City school enrollment to flatten out and possibly decline.

In its second annual enrollment summit, school district officials turned Thursday to an array of people for insight into what was going on in Carson City and the ramification for enrollment in its public schools.

"Have we leveled off?" asked Mike Mitchell, the school district's director of operations.

"That's a huge question for us," added Superintendent Jim Parry. "We're afraid that we are not recognizing a downturn in enrollment."

School district officials accurately predicted that student enrollment would be flat for the current and the prior school year.

"Everything indicated growth in Carson, but our gut feeling was no growth," Mitchell said.

For the past two years, enrollment in Carson City schools has been under 1 percent.

Between 1990 and 1997, enrollment grew an average of 3.9 percent.

District officials are now looking for something more concrete than gut feelings to project future growth and for this they talked to a local developer, the city's assessor, economists and local business leaders, along with school district staff.

The school district has used the city's birthrate to project kindergarten enrollment. Typically, kindergarten enrollment has been within 95 percent to 105 percent of the birthrate six years earlier.

"Trying to use birthrate has not been that good for us," Parry said. "Young families may give birth here, but they are not buying homes here. Do they move east?"

The conversation turned to subjects which at first blush seemed far removed from public education, but at a closer look directly affect student enrollment.

The list included the cost of building homes - it's about 10 percent cheaper in Lyon County, a dwindling supply of land and affordable homes in Carson City and the continued buoyancy of the California economy.

Uncertainty about the state's workers compensation program and the possibility of a tax on company profits were also concerns for company's considering moving to Nevada, said Larry Osborne, executive vice president of Carson City Area Chamber of Commerce.

A combination of California's booming economy and the absence of earthquakes, and riots, there was less incentive for families to flee the state for Nevada, Osborne said.

Ron Kipp, project development manager at Landmark Homes, said that families with young children accounted for about 15 to 22 percent of home sales in the city. The average home being sold in Carson City costs about $140,000 to $220,000, Kipp said. It is being bought by upper-income families -either retirees or families with grown children. The average starter home in Carson City costs about $100,000.

"We're out of land for starter homes," Kipp said.

Osborne said that the number of relocation inquires made to his office were on average down 21 percent.

"Carson City is not that cheap anymore. It's about 7 percent above the national average -different from what it used to be," Osborne said.

Also down is the number of start-up companies or companies shifting to Carson City from out of state, Northern Nevada Development Authority Executive Director Kris Holt said.

"Does any one see us becoming a mature community and closing down schools," Parry asked.

The consensus from participants was that, no, that would not happen.

"No, but I see us being a more affluent community with fewer students," Carson City Assessor Kit Weaver said.


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