Chico Unified enrollment rises CUSD recovering from pandemic and fire trauma

by Natalie Hanson
sidebar posted Sept. 24

Despite a turbulent period since the Camp Fire, further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Chico Unified School District (CUSD) administrators say so far this fall, enrollment is rising and teacher staffing levels are recovering. That has given some running for the school board hope to be able to tackle multiple high-pressure concerns.

Jim Hanlon, human resources assistant superintendent, told ChicoSol last month that the district was facing some staffing issues. However, as the school year began he said in an interview that although enrollment dropped from 12,253 students in 2019 to 11,834 in 2021 -– its lowest point in five years -– it has increased to 12,176 this year.

Hanlon noted attendance fluctuates as families move in and out during the summer, and could be affected by the growth of Oak Bridge Academy Online School during COVID from 75 to 300 students.

Teacher staffing has also improved since the pandemic’s peak, with full time teachers “holding fairly steady” from kindergarten through 8th grade, Hanlon said. He said they hired 30 high school teachers and lowered the need for substitute teachers this year, after a high need during COVID’s peak.

“We did temporarily increase substitute pay about two years ago because of the sub shortage due to COVID, and the board just voted last month to make the pay increase permanent,” he said. Short-term subs (who work 1-10 consecutive days) get $175 per day and long-term subs (working 11 or more consecutive days in a classroom) get $200 per day.

However, the district remains low on entry-level positions, from bus drivers to classroom aides, which may complicate strategies to improve students’ educational scores and campus facilities and safety. Wages for these positions have been increased to try to attract more workers, but the data still shows an increase in retirements and resignations during the first year of the pandemic.

And Tom Lando, one of the incumbents on the school board running for re-election, said in fact the district expects lower future enrollment numbers to come out within the next year -– due to large outgoing classes and smaller incoming classes. Only time will tell how major that gap in incoming classes will be, and what effect it could have on the school district as a whole, he said.

Read about the Nov. 8 CUSD board election here.
Natalie Hanson is a contributing writer to ChicoSol.

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