More students showed up for class this year at Palo Alto schools than in the last 20 years, Assistant Superintendent Scott Laurence told the school board Tuesday in a non-voting study session.
At 11,431 students, the district is up 259 students from last year, which means schools will continue to feel a space squeeze.
The increases vary by grades yet fall short overall of medium-range demographic projections, with some puzzling anomalies.
But the space crunch is real.
The entire 17-school district has only one "empty" classroom right now, according to Laurence. But that room isn't truly empty – it's used as flexible space for other classes, he said.
It's the last of the many computer labs, science rooms and other spaces that have been absorbed into the district as full-time classrooms in the last three or four years, he said.
To avoid adding more classrooms – and teachers – the district has pushed nearly every class to its 20-24 student limit, according to Laurence.
At El Carmelo Elementary School, every single kindergarten through third-grade class is at the maximum of 20, a number established by the class-size-reduction state program in which the district participates.
Student overflows also spiked. As many as 172 students were moved from their neighborhood school to one farther away because of overcrowding, up from 129 students last year. Only two years ago, that number was a mere 11.
Yet the growth was unpredictable, Laurence noted.
Fewer students than projected are packing Palo Alto's campuses. The district had planned for 420 students, a medium-growth projection from demographers Lapkoff and Gobalet.
Yet while middle schools lost 24 students, elementary schools gained about 200. High schools welcomed 86 more pupils. That means lower grades exceeded medium projections while sixth through 12th grades fell short of even the medium-range projections, Laurence noted.
District officials have only anecdotal evidence to explain the variable numbers, he said. While economic woes may cause some families to desert pricey private institutions for public schools, Laurence said other families may move away because they can no longer afford Palo Alto.
(Staff Writer Arden Pennell can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.)