As Palo Alto school officials grapple with where to invest millions in a new elementary school campus, the latest enrollment figures out this week offered scant guidance.
Elementary enrollment this fall is indeed higher than it was last year -- by 17 students scattered around the city.
Overall, K-12 headcount in the Palo Alto Unified School District rose by less than one percent from last year, from 12,396 to 12,483.
But over the past decade, enrollment has jumped nearly 21 percent. No new schools have opened in that period, but a bond-funded building program has added dozens of classrooms to existing campuses throughout town.
In an analysis prepared for presentation at the Tuesday, Sept. 24 Board of Education meeting, officials parsed the data to try to discern the trends, charting things like ten-year growth rates for each of 17-plus campuses and number of elementary seats still available (district-wide, that figure is 123).
After shying away from two false starts on opening a 13th elementary school in recent years, Board of Education members last spring said they would choose a location for the new school by May 2014. The two most frequently cited contenders are property at 525 San Antonio Road that backs up onto the Greendell Elementary School campus, and the old Garland School campus at 870 N. California Ave.
But as with the past several years -- while enrollment indeed is slowly rising -- the new headcount has come in below projections, and solid indicators of future growth are elusive.
This fall's highest growth rate -- 2 percent -- comes at the middle-school level, where officials have said they hope to secure additional classroom space by pursuing acquisition of a private-school campus adjacent to Terman Middle School. But that deal depends on the private school, Bowman International School, being able to find space elsewhere to pursue its goal of building a larger campus.
In the high schools, enrollment this fall is up by less than one-half percent. Headcount at Gunn High School is 1,878, up 36 from last year. At Palo Alto High School, it's 1,921, down 28 from last year. High-school students this fall officially counted on the 14th day of the school year also include six at alternative institutions such as Middle College and two at the district-run Hospital School at Packard Children's Hospital.
Enrollment capacity of the two high schools currently is envisioned at 2,300 students per campus.
Ethnic data on Palo Alto's 2013-14 headcount shows a continuing trend of rising Asian enrollment from 32.1 percent in 2008-09 to 39.3 percent this fall, and declining Caucasian enrollment, from 51.6 in 2008-09 to 46.4 percent this year.
Hispanic enrollment has grown slightly, from 9.1 percent in 2008-09 to 11 percent this fall. African-American enrollment has declined slightly, from 3.6 percent in 2008-09 to 2.8 percent this year.
Elementary class size has grown slightly in the past four years, from 20.9 in 2009-10 to 22.5 this fall. Kindergarten classes this fall average 20.9 students.
Class size data at the middle- and high-school levels was not reported.