Second in an occasional series
From the poll posted yesterday, almost half of all voters have never sent their children or grandchildren to schools in the Pomona Unified School District. Therefore, out of the 68% of voters who are age 35 and up, about a third of them, and probably more, have no experience whatsoever with the school district, other than as a student.
Attendance is declining. Average daily attendance, the measurement used for State funding of schools, has dropped from a high of 33,976 in the 2002-2003 school year to 26,538 in 2010-11, a 22% decrease over the span of just eight years. PUSD's ambitious bond program opened many schools in the last couple of decades, and as attendance has dropped, year round schooling has been eliminated, portables have been disassembled, and programs that consume additional space beyond the classroom have been implemented.
But does that mean that the population of school age children are dropping, or that parents are consciously deciding not to use the services of PUSD? Surprisingly, despite the anecdotes that people hear, there is not a wholesale shift of the student population to non-PUSD schools. The Census data shows that in 2008, there were 34,332 children enrolled in school. Average daily attendance was 30,150 in the 2007-08 school year, for a "shrinkage" rate of 12%. Some of that 11% went to private schools, some were home schooled, others went to schools in other districts, and a few are simply dropouts. The difference is greatest in the high school ages, with 11,832 high school age students and about 7,521 high school students in PUSD, with a shrinkage rate of 37%. Even so, this is better that at, say, Pasadena, where there are 28,268 school age students and an average daily attendance of 18,765 - a shrinkage rate of 34%. In Upland, the shrinkage rate from school age population to actual enrollment is 31%, so Pomona (and Diamond Bar residents) are keeping their kids in local schools.
The difference is really individuals without school aged children at all, rather than families with kids who consciously decided to not send their kids to PUSD schools. Here's the challenge. With only 36% of voters having children or grandchildren in the district, that means that advocates for the parcel tax will have to reach the 64% that don't. Voters, especially those registered Republican or Decline to State, will be literally swamped with information from Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina as they attempt to buy their way into office. Other traditional forms of local communication, such as ads on local cable television, are in decline as viewers switch to satellite and FIOS, which do not have local insert commercials in their programming. Door to door communication has become less and less effective as voters lead busier lives and refuse to answer the door to solicitors. How will the pro-tax forces overcome this disadvantage?
Incidentally, one of the side effects of this disconnect is that there is no organized opposition either. Will an organized opposition form, and take out a statement in the ballot pamphlet? Without an opposition, the pro-tax side can easily buy all the slate mailers in the area - Republican, Democratic, and decline to state. Although most voters seem to know that slate mailers are just paid advertising, they are surprisingly effective. As a veteran election worker, there is a large percentage of voters that take slates into the ballot box with them. They are especially effective on low-information elections and nonpartisan elections.
In the next installment, I'll look at where the voters come from, and past support for school district bonds - will Diamond Bar residents step up to the plate again?