Murrieta Schools grow 13% in population last year, 18,500 students expected by 2005

The Murrieta Unified School District has been meeting the challenge of a booming student population growth. For the last four years, the district, according to Chuck DePreker, assistant superintendent of facilities, has increased its number of pupils by more than 10 percent. “Last year we grew by 13 percent,” said DePreker. From October 2002 to October 2003 the district had 17,480 students which are projected to increase by an additional 5.8 percent between October 2004 and October 2005. With a total of 18,500 students expected in the Murrieta school system by 2005, school officials have been continuing to hire teachers and school staff, unlike many other California school districts. “We are the opposite of what San Diego County school districts are experiencing,” said DePreker.The States budget deficit caused most districts state wide to lay off teachers and staff and to make reductions in programs across the board. Oceanside Unified School District in San Diego County, for example, had to cut more than $12 million from their budget in the past year. Oceanside trustees handed out pink slips to 11 percent of their teachers, laid off numerous custodial and administrative staff and slashed music and art programs.Depreker said if the state continues to make cuts in education it will only be a matter of time before Murrieta feels the crunch. “We have been able to sustain our teachers and staff because of our growth, but it’s getting more difficult every year,” said Stacy Coleman, assistant superintendent for business services. For the last four years Coleman said the district has received less money from the state than it is entitled to. Coleman said school officials are paying close attention to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recently released budget proposal to see how it could affect the district. “The governor’s budget is a guideline for us,” Coleman said.One item the district is paying close attention to is a bond measure that was passed in March. While hoping for the best when its comes to the state budget, Coleman said school officials are in the meantime planning for next year by going to each school site and discussing issues like teacher-student ratios. Coleman said the district is well aware of the explosion of students in Murrieta and has been addressing the issue since it’s unified in 1989. The district makes projections for each year based on a formula that takes into account, for example, the number of certain dwelling units built. Responding to the growing student population, the district opened its second high school, Vista Murrieta, in August 2003 and expects to complete the final phase of the school by August 2004. The district also opened up Monte Vista Elementary, its ninth elementary school, last August. In August 2004, the final phase of the district’s third middle school, Warm Springs Middle School, has been slated for completion.

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