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Recession causes school quandary

Posted: August 28, 2009 9:59 p.m.
Updated: August 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
West Creek Elementary School was built last year for the children of hundreds of families who would move into new homes in Valencia.

But those expected families never came. The recession forced a halt to construction on the homes.

This left Saugus Union School District in a bind: It had too many students for nearby Bridgeport Elementary School to handle, but not enough to justify hiring a whole new staff for West Creek Elementary.

So as West Creek sat vacant and unused at the beginning of the school year, Bridgeport overflowed.

"The downturn of the economy has of course slowed the building down, and when the building slows down, the student generation is impacted," Saugus Superintendent Judy Fish said. "It's very sad that we cannot accommodate the families that move here."

Bridgeport, which opened on Newhall Ranch Road seven years ago, has exceeded its 925-student capacity and now tops out at 930.
New families with elementary school-aged children will be forced to send them to Emblem Elementary School, about a mile away from Bridgeport, even if they move into the Bridgeport community, Fish said. Emblem has about 350 students.

The elementary school, located across Newhall Ranch Road and Bouquet Canyon Road from Bridgeport homes, has taken on at least 50 students who would have otherwise gone to Bridgeport but is in no danger of being overcrowded, school officials said.

In response to parents concerned about the enrollment cap, Fish said all families forced to go to Emblem this year can return to Bridgeport next year.

Earlier this year, district officials delayed opening West Creek until at least July 2010 due to projected low enrollment and budget constraints.

The $5 million school, located near Copper Hill Drive in Valencia, would have opened with just 50 students. The district typically needs between 300 and 400 students for a new school to open.

School officials are hoping to remedy the problem next year if West Creek Elementary opens, which would allow the district to redraw school boundaries, Fish said.

"We expect that we shouldn't have a problem next year," she said.

Bridgeport Principal Susan Bender noted that kindergarten enrollment has risen. A normal kindergarten enrollment would run around 120 students, but Bridgeport enrolled more than 160 kindergarten students each year for the past three years.

There are about 150 first-graders at Bridgeport, making it the biggest kindergarten and first-grade classes out of all 15 Saugus Union schools, Fish said.

"We're a younger neighborhood," Bender said.

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