News

School board could delay new elementary school

Dipping kindergarten enrollment could result in postponing opening the district's 13th elementary school

In light of falling kindergarten enrollment rates, the Palo Alto school board could put off long-time plans to build a 13th elementary school at its meeting Tuesday, March 11.

Staff has recommended that the board delay all planning for the new elementary school, citing study sessions and discussions held over the past two years and a 2012 state law that established a later admittance date.

For the 2014-15 school year and beyond, kindergarteners must be 5 years old by Sept. 1 in order to enroll. Those with later birthdays can enroll in a "transitional kindergarten" program. Just 16 children enrolled in the first year of Palo Alto's program.

"The move to a later kindergarten start date has suppressed kindergarten enrollment for the past two years and will again in 2014-2015," the staff recommendations read. "These smaller cohorts will work their way through the elementary schools. This gives the District time to delay decisions regarding a thirteenth elementary site."

In the 2012-13 year, Palo Alto Unified enrolled 936 kindergarteners, compared to 959 the previous year and 972 in 2010-11, according to the California Department of Education's Educational Demographics Unit.

At a December 2013 board meeting, board members reviewed demographers' data that projected little or no elementary enrollment growth in the near term.

The board will also discuss extending leases for Stratford School and Athena Academy, two sites previously discussed as potential homes for the district's 13th elementary school. Athena Academy, which serves children with dyslexia, is located at 525 San Antonio Ave. The private Stratford School currently leases the former Garland Elementary School site at 870 N. California Ave.

Both leases are set to expire June 30, 2015. The board could extend the two leases by an additional year until June 30, 2016.

The board meets Tuesday, March 11, at 6:30 p.m. at 25 Churchill Ave.

Comments

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 10, 2014 at 10:10 am

Bad idea to delay this.

The dip in enrollment is because for these years the birthdate covers 11 months not 12 months, but that will go back to 12 months in time. We also infill each grade as people move to the area rather than just at kindergarten time.

Delaying this process would be wrong imo particularly as we are still building and talking about building more housing in Palo Alto. We must prepare for the future, not what has happened for the past couple of years.


Posted by Cur Mudgeon, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 10, 2014 at 10:47 am

OK to delay IMO. Just don't close or sell off school properties as was done in the 1970s and 1980s! Perhaps also Palo Alto has priced its real estate out of the reach of families.


Posted by Makes Sense, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 10, 2014 at 10:52 am

Given the low turnover of homes in Palo Alto, it makes sense to delay the decision to open up another elementary school. Opening up another elementary at this time would be fiscally irresponsible.


Posted by muttiallen, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Mar 10, 2014 at 11:34 am

muttiallen is a registered user.

There aren't fewer kids -- they are just delayed a year. And in Palo Alto most kids with Fall birthdays did Young Fives anyway, so it doesn't really make a difference. Build the school! PAUSD has always assumed enrollments would get smaller -- that's why they closed Jordan and Terman and Cubberly many elementary schools that are now torn down.


Posted by anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2014 at 1:26 pm

@Makes Sense,
"Given the low turnover of homes in Palo Alto,"

Do you not drive El Camino? Or maybe you don't live in the south part of town which has been the focus of massive densification.

People move into all these big box apartments going up for the El Camino Tunnel Project - they're all coming here for the schools. All those townhouses at the former Rickey's Hyatt site we were told would be populated by older people moving out of their houses (to move into a 3-story townhouse with high ceilings, right...), but it's filled with families sending their kids to the local schools. There are several projects going up now and more in the pipeline, all with much higher density than zoned. It's well known that these spots will end up costing more than they put into the local coffers, so if you are concerned about fiscal responsibility, maybe think about that when this density obsessed Council comes up for re-election....


Posted by David, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Easy solution: add new classrooms to existing schools.


Posted by Wrong Question, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 10, 2014 at 6:46 pm

It's disappointing that this discussion is only about when we will experience a next upswing in students and whether the board's action should be to delay opening a 13th elementary until 2019. The better discussion would be whether our current schools are already overcrowded. The district has seen a huge increase in ongoing revenue the past two years without having to serve more students. Those revenue increases will continue to exceed the district's overly conservative projections. Yet they won't consider addressing the overcrowding that has occurred over the past decade.
Can we get these topics discussed as part of the superintendent selection process and during the November school board election?


Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 10, 2014 at 7:13 pm

"Yet they won't consider addressing the overcrowding that has occurred over the past decade"

@Wrong Question - how do you measure "overcrowding" here? Do you think there are too many kids per class, or too many per campus? Or too many kids vs. available space?

There have been significant expansions on several campuses (Ohlone, Fairmeadow, all the secondary schools) to accommodate growth. Class sizes in the lower grades have crept up, but I'm not sure that's what you mean.

What did you have in mind?


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 10, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Fred and those who think all we need to do is build more classrooms.

Have you seen how crowded the playing fields at our elementary schools are? Every time a new classroom is built, we increase the number of students and reduce the amounts of play space. Do you understand that young children need to exercise their muscles during the school day in order to sit in class and pay attention. When kids don't get enough exercise they get wriggly and can't sit still.

Have you seen what it is like in a multipurpose room when there is a music concert and the parents and students are squeezed in to a small room without enough space for all parents? If the fire dept. came to one of these concerts they would put a stop to the concert until half the audience left.

Have you seen what it is like to get all the children into an assembly, they have to have them outside because there is no space for the whole school or even a couple of grades to have an assembly together?

Have you seen 5th grade children and 1st grade children all trying to play in the same playground facilities, on the same structures or enough space to kick a ball?

Have you seen the congestion outside any elementary school at drop off time? There isn't even enough parking for the teachers to park, let alone any parents. Kindergarteners need to be taken to the classroom not just dropped off.

Have you seen the amount of office space our elementary schools have for 1 principal and two office staff? We can't have enough administrators at the elementary schools because we don't have enough space to increase the office staff by an extra person.




Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 10, 2014 at 10:15 pm

@Paly Parent, I haven't seem most of those things I'm afraid, but my experience is limited to the elementary schools that my own children attended here in Barron Park, where things did not seem overly crowded. What campuses are you referring to? Campus overcrowding is certainly a legitimate concern I think, though I'm not sure exactly how it is addressed. For instance if you say that Hays is crowded (it certainly has large enrollment), will building a school on San Antonio road help much?


Posted by OPar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 10, 2014 at 11:38 pm

Fred,

Ohlone has 600 kids. Escondido's over 500. Palo Verde has no room to add additional classrooms.

The Board already delayed opening a 13th elementary a few years back when there was a slight dip in enrollment after years of it skyrocketing. It's been climbing ever since. It's like climate change deniers who look at one year's lack of a decline in artic ice and ignore years of evidence.


Posted by Fred, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 11, 2014 at 12:31 am

@OPar - so will the San Antonio school site reduce enrollment at Ohlone (a choice school) or Escondido (on the opposite end of town)? That's what I'm trying to figure out.

The question I'm asking is whether a new school will actually address the problem @Paly Parent points out, about certain schools with large enrollment. It's not like we can take 100 kids from Escondido and another hundred from Hays and re-assign them to a new school on San Antonio Road.

The article says that enrollment in Kindergarten has been going down, not up, the last couple years, so they are delaying building so they can understand the need and options better. That seems reasonable to me.


Posted by Homer, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 11, 2014 at 1:25 am

I have been a volunteer supporter of Athena Academy since it was founded, and the results they are achieving for gifted dyslexic students are astounding! Something unique and very valuable is happening in Palo Alto, but it isn't going to any investors a bucket of money; instead, it is going to change the lives of some of our young whose educational and learning needs fall outside the capabilities of our public schools.

Athena Academy isn't just a local resource - they're forging new ways to blend learning methods for dyslexic students, and they are sharing results in an open, collaborative, research-based approach that has the potential to make a positive impact on educational methods for dyslexic students everywhere.

The value of Athena Academy isn't for the majority of students in our community; it is for the few who cannot be served by the mainstream capabilities of the public school system. It is for a small number of students who statistically can be identified as having a greater chance of being innovators, creators, and leaders of the next generation. I warmly applaud PAUSD for their generous support provided by leasing the 525 San Antonio Road property to this new private school.

In our sophisticated, technologically-advanced community, it should be easy to find someone who can lead a survey methodology, collect meaningful statistics, and make a pretty accurate determination of the public school needs by grade over the next few years. Palo Alto should absolutely determine their real public school growth needs, and plan campus expansion and new construction accordingly. In an ideal world, they should also consider and continue to support the needs of students who cannot be properly supported by the public school system.

Yes, let's be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Yes, let's make optimal use of the property and other resources available to give our young the best possible education. But please, let's find it in our hearts to be generous to any and all new activities that will make a significant contribution to the future of education. Athena Academy is one of those.


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 11, 2014 at 8:20 am

Fred

I see where you are coming from.

It is true to say that the two Barron Park schools are not as impacted as the others, but the rest are completely filled at most grade levels with no space to put more classrooms. There is a formula for how many students per square foot of campus or something which should be a guideline but not sure what it is or if it has been stretched.

The long and the short of it is that if a family moves in to say the Palo Verde area with two elementary aged kids, it is unlikely they will both be offered a place there. PAUSD will look at all the elementary schools around town and find one with space at the right grade levels (often Barron Park or JB) and then it is up to the parents to get them there every day. When it comes to kindergarten, there is usually a lottery for non sibling students to get in.

Ohlone and Hoover are both over subscribed programs which also entered through lotteries, as are Spanish and Mandarin Immersion.

By having an extra elementary school beside Cubberly, it will help the overall number of spaces. Typically a new school is "grown" from kindergarten ie just kindergarten the first year, kindergarten and 1st grade the second year, etc. What would need to be done is to either redraw the boundaries. At present the boundary between Palo Verde and Fairmeadow is almost irrelevant as most of the new housing is done in South Palo Alto and impacts these two schools, but some redrawing could be done. Oregon Expressway is a boundary which would be hard to redraw.

Another method would be to move MI, SI, to the new site. This would free up space at both Ohlone and Escondido and it could be done in one year.

The good thing about having a new school in the south is that is where the new housing is being built.

The middle school impact would still have to be addressed.

Hope this explains things.


Posted by Palo Alto resident, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 11, 2014 at 8:29 am

I REALY like the idea of moving the Spanish and mandarin immersion programs to Cubberly since the choice programs are commuter programs by definition. That would help Palo Verde in particular since Ohlone and PV are so close


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