Castilleja School has outlined a plan to reduce its enrollment by 33 students over the next four years if it cannot come to new terms with the City of Palo Alto over headcount and traffic.
After finding last fall that the independent middle and high school for girls has violated its city-imposed enrollment cap for 12 consecutive years, officials fined the school and ordered a reduction in headcount from the current 448 to the maximum of 415 that the school agreed to in 2000.
But the city did not set a firm deadline and said the reduction could come "through natural attrition and voluntary measures."
Officials said they would consider waiving future fines for over-enrollment if Castilleja could show "effective and continuing transportation-demand management programs."
Castilleja Head of School Nanci Kauffman said she would guarantee reduction of four students by next year and then double down on traffic-control measures around the school and "work with the city" on a process to apply for a new use permit. Some neighbors of the Bryant Street school raised concerns about traffic problems last summer, describing the congestion during the morning and afternoon pick-up times as a nightmare.
If it cannot win a higher enrollment cap from the city beginning in 2015, Kauffman said the school would cut student headcount by six or eight girls each year until reaching 415 in 2018-19. Natural attrition at Castilleja "typically amounts to two to four students per year," she said in a Jan. 20 letter to Steven Turner, the city's advance planning manager. Admission of fewer students to incoming classes could account for the additional reduction.
With new traffic-control measures in place -- including daily shuttles for students from Los Altos and Woodside Kauffman said she aims to reduce the vehicle trips generated by the school to the level of 2000, when enrollment was 385.
"Provided the measures implemented in our (traffic demand management) plan meet the city's requirements and we reduce our impact to that of 2000 (when our enrollment was 385), we will work with the City of Palo Alto to outline a process to apply for a new (conditional use permit) in January of 2015 for the 2015-16 academic year," Kauffman said.
The school awaits a response from the city.
Demand for a Castilleja education remains high, Kauffman said, with an increase in the number of applicants for both the sixth- and ninth-grade classes that will enter this fall.
Stan Shore, who has lived across Kellogg Avenue from Castilleja for more than 20 years, called on Turner to set a two-year deadline for the school to comply with the existing use permit capping headcount at 415.
"Castilleja has made a mockery of the (conditional use permit) process," Shore said in a Jan. 30 letter to the city.
"The school has created this over-enrollment, and it is the school's moral responsibility to get their enrollment back into compliance as rapidly as possible."
In a separate letter to Turner drafted by Shore under the letterhead "Neighbors of Castilleja," Shore said: "We are mystified at why Castilleja is under the distinct impression that, unlike other citizens of Palo Alto, it can dictate when and if it will comply with regulations."
Shore said Neighbors of Castilleja speaks for 24 neighbors, some of whom do not want their names released.
But Theresia Gouw, whose family lives across the street from Castilleja, expressed support for the school.
"The 'neighborhood' group...does not represent all of us," Gouw said.
"I have noticed the positive impact of the shuttle and other measures. Also, whenever I do see Casti students or parents in the neighborhood whether on foot, bike or car, thy are always very courteous and mindful of signs and the neighborhood.
"I do not think the school should be forced to reduce their enrollment," Gouw said.
Another Castilleja neighbor, Gerry Marshall, agreed, saying the school should be permitted to have an enrollment of 450.
"Nanci Kauffman has been diligent in addressing neighbors' concerns," Marshall said.
"We are proud to have such an asset in our neighborhood."
Another neighbor, Leif King, said, "The school's traffic has been much better this year. It's clear that Castilleja has worked hard to mitigate the effects of the large enrollment, and those efforts have paid off."