|Now is the time to open a 13th elementary school in Palo Alto, the Attendance Area Advisory Group (AAAG) is recommending -- in spite of a school board conclusion in February that a trigger point has not been reached.
The AAAG in February recommended to the board that the "trigger point" for opening a 13th elementary school has been reached. The Garland facility is its "first site of choice," the group later decided.
"Everything that we've already seen indicates that the elementary population will continue to grow, and that's why it all makes sense for us to go ahead and say we're at the trigger point," AAAG member John Markevitch said. The group's recommendations are based on existing information, Associate Superintendent Marilyn Cook added.
The AAAG will make its recommendations to the school board in June.
On Feb. 8, the school board decided by a 3-2 vote that there is no need to open a 13th elementary school. Board members Barb Mitchell and Gail Price dissented, saying that the trigger point had been reached.
The board majority maintained the district can better handle current enrollment growth through a "level one" expansion that would add 11 modular classrooms at five elementary schools. Modulars are a lower-cost alternative to opening a new school, the board reasoned.
The board asked the AAAG to come back with a future "trigger point" for a new elementary school.
But for the AAAG, that point is now.
Elementary schools currently have 4,819 students enrolled, which is 96 percent of the district's 5,021 capacity, according to district demographers Lapkoff & Gobalet. The district will reach "level one" capacity by 2010, the demographers said.
Level one is all the AAAG believes the schools can handle.
"We're full when basically 96 percent (of the elementary school) has been filled," Markevitch said.
"You'd lose play area, locker areas, it's become just a very noisy and packed environment," Markevitch said. "The quality of life will start to deteriorate when you put too many individuals on a certain campus."
The Garland site currently houses the Stratford School, which pays the district about $673,000 a year, with an agreement through 2015. Stratford School is a private, independent elementary school with eight campuses throughout the South Bay.
To open a 13th elementary school at the Garland site, the district also must give Stratford a 3-year notice to vacate, according to AAAG member Tina Underwood. An additional year would be needed to upgrade the facilities, Markevitch said.
"It's a four-year lead time" to get the Garland site ready for use, Markevitch said. "We need to start the process now so we'll be ready for the population growth."
Business Manager Jerry Matranga estimated it would take about $7.2 million to reopen Garland (including revenue lost from ending the existing lease) in contrast to $3.75 million to add 15 new modular classrooms to existing campuses.
Garland is the preferred site because it is centrally located.
Opening a 13th school at Garland would raise district elementary school capacity to 5,312, and allow the district to reduce overflows from the north and reduce the sizes of Walter Hays and Duveneck elementary schools, according to Cook.
"This would be extremely disappointing," Stratford President Matt Wulfstat said. "We've been really happy to be part of the Palo Alto community. The parents would be extremely disappointed by this." He said he would like Stratford to stay in Palo Alto for the next 20 to 30 years.
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