Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 17, 2010

Schools to do more checks for illegally enrolled students

Palo Alto board grapples with planning for enrollment growth

by Chris Kenrick

Palo Alto school officials plan to expand residency-verification efforts to weed out students who may be attending schools illegally.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly told the Board of Education Tuesday night he plans to extend this year's ninth-grade "residency verification" to other grades next year.

The ninth-grade program — which required every freshman this fall to submit fresh proof of residency, even if the student had been enrolled in Palo Alto since kindergarten — resulted in 30 teens being dropped from school rolls after their parents could not provide documentation.

Skelly said he intends to "have a good discussion about expanding this program to other grades, how to do it, what the best grades are, what our enforcement officer thinks."

The district for several years has employed a part-time "residency officer" who follows up on tips about suspected non-resident students, including calls to the district's Residency Tip Hotline at 650-329-3700, ext. 7385.

Skelly's remarks came during a board discussion of district-wide enrollment projections from consulting demographer Shelley Lapkoff.

Lapkoff said kindergarten and first-grade enrollment this fall were "surprisingly high," far exceeding previously reliable indicators such as data on local births and housing turnover.

Births to local residents have been relatively stable at about 600 to 700 each year, "but kindergarten enrollment has been growing substantially over time," Lapkoff said.

Where in the past, enrollment was roughly 109 percent of births from five years before, this year it was 120 percent, she said.

"This predictive power (of local birth data) really broke down this year," she said.

An increasing number of enrolled students come from rental housing, the demographer said, explaining why enrollment continues to grow even with low housing turnover rates over the past three years.

"I analyzed the registration data to evaluate who's in rental versus owner-occupied housing, and I found big increases in the last few years of students in rental housing," Lapkoff said.

Another possible source of the added headcount, though harder to pin down, is that more families are living with grandparents, she said.

New housing developments in Palo Alto also have contributed to enrollment growth. As of this fall, 606 Palo Alto students came from housing constructed in the past 10 years. But that will increase sharply when new housing still in the pipeline is completed, she said. The estimates are that 1,051 students will be coming from new housing by 2014 and 1,452 by the fall of 2020, Lapkoff said.

School board members said they want to schedule a study session for early next year to evaluate the growth projections and try to plan for new space, possibly including a fourth middle school.

District-wide enrollment, at 12,024 this fall, has been on a steady upward trajectory since a post-Baby Boom nadir in 1989.

At its historic high in 1968 — when Palo Alto had three high schools and more than 20 elementary schools — enrollment reached 15,575. Currently there are two high schools, three middle schools and 12 elementary campuses.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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