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Education boosts SCV economy

Part I in a series exploring budget cuts' effects on schools

Posted: April 13, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: April 13, 2012 1:30 a.m.
 

Education is a major contributor to the Santa Clarita Valley economy — about one-third of the 25 top local employers are school districts or local colleges.

n The William S. Hart Union High School District employs an estimated 2,674 people, second only to Six Flags Magic Mountain’s 3,800 full-time and seasonal employees in the number of jobs created in the Santa Clarita Valley.

n The Saugus Union School District is third on the list of top employers with an estimated 1,845 jobs.

n College of the Canyons employs an estimated 1,400 full-time and part-time workers, making it among the top five employers, according to the analysis.

n Newhall School District, with 819 jobs, is among the top 10 local employers.

Besides providing many local jobs, school districts traditionally offer higher-paying, more stable employment for the community’s economy.

“It has implications on housing, restaurants, retail and services,” Saugus Union School District board member Judy Umeck said of education’s economic impact.

“When you work and live in the same community, you’ve made a total investment in that community,” she said.

Education employment has helped sustain the Santa Clarita Valley’s strong showing through the long-running recession. Unemployment rates have remained low compared to other areas — 7.4 percent in February compared to 12.1 county-wide and 10.9 percent in California.

The valley’s reputation for high-quality schools also plays a factor in attracting businesses to the area, said SCV Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Jonas Peterson.

“That helps us bring new companies here, helps us create even more jobs,” Peterson said.


But some local leaders are concerned that continued cuts in state funding could undermine Santa Clarita Valley schools and, in turn, some of the strength of the local economy.


“There are (school) facilities that are being maintained in the most basic of senses,” said Sulphur Springs School District Superintendent Robert Nolet.


“If the education product declines,” Nolet said, “the economic results of that cross over into employment and quality of jobs and housing.”


“Ultimately, our facilities and the quality of education are going to affect the surrounding values of homes. There will be a price to pay.”

The multiplier effect
Five years of cuts to education funding have whittled local school districts to the budgetary bone, and more cuts are threatened.


“As long as the state continues to cut education, that’s going to impact the service that is critical for the people who live here in Santa Clarita,” said Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Pulskamp.


Districts have pushed up class sizes, cut academic programs for students and issued unpaid days off for all employees.
This year, Saugus Union notified 74 classroom teachers they may lose their jobs. The 10,000-student district faces a $6.7 million budget shortfall.


Job losses and pay cuts can have a multiplier effect in the community.


“When people don’t have jobs and they have to start tightening their belts,” Umeck said, “that means they have to look at areas where they can cut their home budgets.”


The education workforce’s contributions are not just economic, she said. They also contribute in terms of quality of life for the entire community.


“When you think about it, they have a buy-in for the health and welfare of our community,” said Umeck, who’s also president of the SCV Trustees Association. “They are not only teachers. They are volunteers at sports programs. They are the community members of the different churches and synagogues.”

High-quality schools
The Santa Clarita Valley’s reputation for high-quality schools is among the top reasons cited by new families who choose to make their homes here, said Erika Kauzlarich-Bird, owner of Triple D Realty and president of the Santa Clarita Valley Division of the Southland Regional Association of Realtors.


“The award-winning schools are wonderful, especially for children with special needs,” Kauzlarich-Bird said.


“That is far and away one of the reasons why people move here to Santa Clarita,” Pulskamp said of local schools. “If people are moving here because of the schools, they are really demanding quality education.”


Santa Clarita Valley schools regularly rank among the top in the state.


The William S. Hart Union High School District ranks No. 1 in the state for its Academic Performance Index scores compared to school districts of similar enrollment.


McGrath Elementary School in the Newhall School District this week was honored with the Title I Academic Achievement Award for the fourth year in a row.


McGrath was among 21 California schools named Blue Ribbon Schools in September.


The national honor recognizes the school’s ability to provide quality education for all students, many of whom are English-language learners and come from low-income neighborhoods.


In March, six Santa Clarita Valley elementary schools were given the title of Distinguished School for their ability to improve the performances of lower-achieving students.


As a whole, two-thirds of local elementary schools have been named a California Distinguished School.


“The teachers, the administrators, all of the support staff at the schools — they are dedicated to the success of students,” Pulskamp said. “If you look at it collectively, it’s clear that the children in Santa Clarita are getting a world-class education.”

 

City Editor Lila Littlejohn contributed to this report.

For the rest of the series, click here

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