With new housing, an increase in birth rates and young families moving into the city, Palo Alto educators are asking themselves how they're going to educate all the new kids.
Palo Alto schools are expected to grow by a thousand more students in the next five years, educators said Tuesday.
"We have hit the tipping point now," said board member Barb Mitchell, advocating for the district to give a notice to vacate to the privately run Stratford School, which is housed at the former Garland Elementary School.
"I share Barb's alarm," board member Mandy Lowell said. "We're increasing every year."
Board member Gail Price concurred that the district should make plans to take back the Garland site for district use.
Class sizes may have to increase to 24 students per teacher in fourth and fifth grades, according to Dana Tom, board vice president.
Palo Alto board members finished their last meeting of the school year on Tuesday with a big question mark.
"We need people's best thinking on this issue," Lowell said. Enrollment growth is fast becoming the school district's biggest dilemma, leading up to a proposed $772 million bond measure slated for June 2008.
"This is a big one," Price said.
Educators are trying to figure out how they are going to both deal with enrollment issues and sell another bond.
Palo Alto high schools will likely see an additional 400 to 600 new students over the next few years. The growth is a result of a surge in births from the 1990's and new families moving into the city, according to the district. Middle schools are expected to exceed capacity in two years. Elementary schools will see 11 new modular classrooms starting in this coming fall.
Demographers project that in five years the district could grow to anywhere between 11,000 to 12,000 students. Currently the district has a little more than 10,000 students.
The last time Palo Alto had 12,000 students was in 1976, according to Mitchell. At the time, the district had 11,900 students attending a total of 26 schools. The schools included 20 elementary schools K-6, three junior high schools (Jordan, Terman and Wilbur), and three high schools (Gunn, Palo Alto and Cubberley). The city currently has 17 schools open.
Lowell said she wanted to take a comprehensive look at all the variables in growth <0x2014> including recommendations from the task force looking at enrollment at high schools <0x2014> rather than considering the problems in a piecemeal fashion.
The district could use Garland to start a third high school, she said.
"I have a concern about where we're going to put the high school students," Lowell said. "Do we want to use Garland as a starting stage?"
The high school task force is scheduled to make recommendations in December, and board members agreed the district needed to begin discussions sooner. School officials suggested hosting town hall meetings.
"Our discussion must start with high schools and middle schools," Camille Townsend, board president, said. She said the district needed to take on a "K-12" perspective.
School board members will map out growth issues with incoming Superintendent Kevin Skelly during a retreat scheduled in early August.