New American Canyon Middle School

This rendering shows the proposed American Canyon middle school that had been planned to open as soon as August 2020. The Napa Valley Unified School District is discussing whether to cancel the project due to falling district enrollment, which has reduced its share of state education money and forced budget cuts.

Researchers predict the number of local school-age children will continue dropping well into the next decade, even with more housing in the pipeline – an unwelcome forecast for parents campaigning to ward off the shutdown of elementary schools in Napa and Yountville and the cancellation of a second middle school for American Canyon.

The Napa Valley Unified School District can expect to teach more than 1,400 fewer students in 2025-26 than it does today, according to a demographic report released by the district, which operates public schools in Napa, American Canyon and Yountville.

A combination of falling birthrates and inflated housing costs already is tightening the influx of children into local schools, and those trends will continue for the foreseeable future, said authors with Sacramento-based Jack Schreder & Associates, which researched population and enrollment trends for the district.

“NVUSD is shifting demographically, aging, and becoming more affluent, with corresponding declines to the relevant school-aged population and birth rate,” authors wrote. “These trends continue to be exacerbated by the ongoing Bay Area housing crisis and are therefore expected to continue for as long as housing prices throughout the greater Bay Area continue to increase.”

NVUSD released the document ahead of a Thursday night meeting in American Canyon, where its board was to vote on whether to back away from building another junior-high school that was to have broken ground this year.

Supporters of a new school have said the project was a key promise made by backers of the successful Measure H school bond measure in 2016, but Superintendent Rosanna Mucetti said in May the district cannot spare the $2.2 million a year needed to run the campus without cutting other programs.

American Canyon’s lone middle school reported enrollment of 1,013 students in 2018-19, higher than at the three junior high campuses in Napa – 956 at Redwood, 849 at Silverado and 799 at Harvest.

Meanwhile, district leaders have cited reports of falling attendance – and the reduction of state education funding that is paid out on a per-student basis – in recommending the closure of two of NVUSD’s four smallest elementary schools after the current school year.

An advisory committee has met since August to weigh possible shutdowns of the Yountville, Mt. George, West Park or Alta Heights schools, where average attendance last year ranged from 313 at West Park down to 119 in Yountville.

Last week, city staff recommended to the committee that West Park and Alta Heights remain open, but did not specifically call for shutting down the Yountville or Mt. George campuses. District officials have estimated that closing two schools will save $1 million per year.

From the 2014-15 to the 2018-19 academic years, district enrollment fell from 17,278 to 16,526. By 2025-26, NVUSD’s student count is not expected to exceed 15,078 and could drop to as little as 14,906, depending on the speed with which residential projects like the Napa Pipe community and American Canyon’s Watson Ranch are approved and built, according to consultants to the district.

Researchers said historically lower housing costs and new development in American Canyon have boosted the city’s population and slowed its falloff in school enrollment figures compared to Napa and Yountville. Still, the Schreder report projected a decline of 96 students over the next seven years, though with years of increase and decrease in the meantime.

Comparisons of home sale data with district enrollment records show a continuing decline in the student generation rate, the number of students added per home sold, the report stated.

In American Canyon, that ratio fell from 1.061 to 0.815 from 2011 to 2018, and from 0.513 to 0.289 in Napa.

Schreder’s forecasts take into account the expected addition of housing stock through planned large-scale developments in the county, such as The Braydon apartment complex off Soscol Avenue where the first of 282 tenants began occupying this summer.

But the report warned that even a major ramp-up of home construction will not itself reverse the Napa Valley’s downward trend in the number of school-age children and teenagers, barring a reversal of the price and rent hikes that have left the county’s housing stock inhospitable to families with children.

“Even with additional students added in from approved development projects, NVUSD’s underlying demographic trends still result in declining enrollment” through the summer of 2026, authors said.

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.