Last year in my State of the City address, I urged us to make sure that, when we’re making decisions, we’re careful to always put family and faith first. I reminded you that a few years ago Family Circle magazine named Boulder City one of the Top 10 places in the nation to raise a family. And that the No. 1 reason that most of us moved to Boulder City is because it’s a wonderful place to raise a family.
Of course, I definitely still feel that way. We’re very blessed to have so many great, caring families in Boulder City who continue to make a positive difference in each of our lives.
However, there’s an alarming trend happening right before our very eyes, and I don’t think many of us even realize it. Since the year 2000, the population of kindergarten through 12th-grade aged children in Boulder City has dropped by approximately 300 according to the U.S. Census Bureau, even though our overall population has increased by 4 percent.
Furthermore, the Clark County School District informs me that enrollment in our public schools has dropped by 578 students over that same period, amounting to a 25 percent decline. And that doesn’t even account for the fact that Boulder City is a net recipient of public school students, with more kids coming in to our schools from other places than go out to attend elsewhere.
The plain fact is that our population is aging — and I believe that it’s doing so unintentionally. We know our senior population is growing rapidly. But our junior population is declining even more rapidly. And that’s what I think most of us don’t fully grasp.
Our kids grow up, go away to get an education, and ultimately create families of their own. But, for the most part, they’re not coming back to raise their families here in clean, green Boulder City. And we’re not replacing them with other young families either.
The reality is that we’re not providing young families a realistic means to come back, or to move here for the first time, even if they want to. On Zillow, Boulder City’s average median listing price per square foot is now 18 percent higher than Henderson’s, 23 percent higher than Mesquite’s, and a whopping 35 percent higher than Clark County’s as a whole. Young families simply can’t afford to pay 35 percent more (in many cases, tens or hundreds of thousands more) for a starter home. Especially when they can buy a comparable home over the hill that’s 30-50 years newer for a lot less.
Keeping property values high is nice. But not so high that we unintentionally drive young families away. Our housing needs to be affordable for all age groups, not just established elites and retirees.
If these trends continue (and, unless we intentionally do something about them, there’s every indication that they will), enrollment at our public schools will continue to drop by over 100 students every three years. I don’t know if that’s alarming to you, but it sure is to me.
In the long run, it means reduced education funding, smaller school facilities, a smaller and less diverse group of peers to contribute to the education process, teacher and counselor layoffs, increasingly less competitive athletic teams, and so on.
Boulder City High School dropped below 600 students this year for the first time since at least the 1970s and risked losing one of its two counselors as a result. If Principal Amy Wagner hadn’t fought hard to keep a second counselor after we inched back to 602 students on count day, then our high school students would be facing a 600-to-1 student-to-counselor ratio rather than the current, more manageable 300-to-1 ratio.
That’s not fair to our kids or to our administrators. And especially not when our children continually outperform their counterparts in Nevada by a long shot. We have great schools, and we need to keep them that way.
But it won’t happen by accident. If we leave things to chance, then these disconcerting trends will just continue until we’ve sealed our own fate and become something we don’t want to be — a town that unintentionally shrivels up and dies on the vine. We simply can’t let that happen.
We like to style ourselves as a family-friendly community. And in many ways we are. But not in these ways. So let’s wake up and do something about it.
In order to do so, though, we need to put our differences aside, stop trying to pretend that our city hasn’t changed and never will, and face reality with open minds and a resolve to work together for the greater good. I have the faith that we can. And I implore you to join me in my crusade. A crusade not to change who we are, but instead to intentionally return us closer to what we once were — a healthy, vibrant, family-friendly town that’s constantly replenishing its younger generation. Our future depends on it.
Rod Woodbury is mayor of Boulder City. He has been serving on the City Council since 2011 and is the president and managing shareholder of his law firm, Woodbury Law.