Demographers cite 'unusual' school ups, downs

Board of Education to discuss enrollment projections tonight

In a "most unusual year" for Palo Alto school demographics, kindergarten enrollments this fall were "surprisingly high," substantially exceeding local birth data from five years ago, demographers said.

But in projections to be presented to the Board of Education tonight (Dec. 14), consultants Shelley Lapkoff and Jeanne Gobalet predict just one more year of elementary enrollment growth, with "steady middle and high-school enrollment increases."

The predicted leveling off of elementary growth is partly attributable to new legislation, to be phased in starting in fall of 2012, which will temporarily reduce the size of kindergarten classes. It requires that kids turn 5 by Sept. 1, rather than the current Dec. 2 cutoff.

But the demographers also offer an "alternative forecast" –- resulting in higher numbers -- based on the "unusual" pattern observed this year. The pattern is that kindergarten enrollment exceeded local birth data from 2005 by margins "far above any historical value for the district."

In the alternative scenario, district-wide enrollment would be 13,576 in 2015, as opposed to the 12,813 projected under the "medium forecast."

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.

Some of the unexpectedly high kindergarten and first-grade head count this fall came not from new housing developments but from families occupying older Palo Alto homes, either as renters or buyers, Lapkoff and Gobalet said.

As of this fall, 606 Palo Alto students came from housing constructed in the past 10 years. When new housing still in the pipeline is considered, 1,051 students will be coming from new housing by 2014 and 1,452 by the fall of 2020.

The public session of tonight's school board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by KinderParent
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 14, 2010 at 12:33 pm

I predict Palo Alto school enrollment will continue to increase. Californians consider education a priority, but decided not to fund it when they passed Prop 13. As a result, only the wealthiest communities in California can afford to have decent schools. Therefore, people with young children will continue to move here, if they can possibly afford it. Paying the Palo Alto real estate premium doesn't make as much sense for those without young kids.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2010 at 12:52 pm

What amazes me most about this is that this increase came as a surprise to the professional demographers and the school board. It came as no surprise to those of us who are using our eyes and ears to keep track of what is going on around town. We also don't see any signs of this changing in the foreseeable future.

Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Wow, another Duh moment for the district. Gee, school funding tanking all over the state and people moving here for the schools? Hell, given our insane housing prices, who else would move here, BUT families with kids?

Meanwhile, the board builds mega-elementaries and puts off reopening Garland.

Oh, and wasted 20-odd meetings on Mandarin immersion when this huge projected growth was staring them in the face?

But, hell, what can we expect? This is a board that can't even run an organized and timely meeting.

Like this comment
Posted by not a blip, but a trend
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 14, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Of course it seems like a surprise if one is looking at local birth data. Nearly all of the families I know had their children elsewhere: the city, more edgy or affordable towns, closer to work, other state and even other countries, etc. But once they began looking at sending those kids to school, they up and move to.....Palo Alto...where the schools are considered much better than other Bay Area towns and are structurally shielded, to a large extent, from the state budget woes. I don't see that changing and hope the school board realizes it quickly and starts taking a long term view that includes a gander outside Palo Alto at the state of 'the competition'. Poll new families and you'll see this is a trend.

Also look at the changing demographics of the younger grades and see that lots of growth is fueled by kids from Asian and South Asian families drawn here by the tech jobs + good schools. My friends from India and Asia have said that excellent public education is a top priority and families will look to move to the increasingly smaller number of places able to provide that.

This is not a blip, it is a trend.

Like this comment
Posted by bick
a resident of University South
on Dec 14, 2010 at 2:13 pm

What's surprising is school enrollment in 1968 was 35% higher in a much less urban city at the time. What would cause such an exodus of people when the US population has since doubled?

I can only guess the high cost of living pushed people out at the same time jobs are getting created from the local technology boom.

Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2010 at 3:41 pm


That would be known as the Baby Boom, pretty much all of whom were in school at that point. Birth rates were low during the Great Depression and WWII--then people made up for lost time.

The population may have doubled, but it's also *aging.* The only reason we don't notice it more is because of immigration.

Like this comment
Posted by JacoP
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Prop 13 ruined California

Like this comment
Posted by Dan Bloomberg
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 14, 2010 at 4:43 pm

When you see an increase in school enrollment that is not only unexpected but also unexplained by the demographic data, and particularly when the (Palo Alto) school district has both a very good reputation and has some very poor schools nearby, it makes sense to ask the obvious question: are kids from other districts being illegally trucked into Palo Alto?

The article, which reports on a study by two consultants, doesn't mention this possibility. Why? It seems difficult to overlook, given the difference between predictions and the actual data. Each child enrolled illegally in Palo Alto schools represents a theft of resources exceeding $10,000. I hope that impoverished Palo Alto has the resources to verify the addresses of at least the entering students.

Like this comment
Posted by JerryL
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 14, 2010 at 6:17 pm

The district is very strict about checking. I know because my son and his family are living with us in our home and we have been inspected to verify that the kids were really living with us. Plus, each year we are required to re verify with notarized forms, driver's license checks and more.

From what I have seen our neighborhood has seen an influx of new families with young children. Many probably were not born within our city limits as I see them coming from new homes recently built, new condo and townhouse developments, etc. Many older residents have died or moved to cheaper retirement locales and their properties bought by younger families.

It is amazing that consultants, hired for the purpose, appear surprised by this.

Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2010 at 7:51 pm


I'm actually glad to hear that the district's been on the ball with that issue.

I live on a small street. Of the three houses sold in the past couple of years, every one of them has been sold to a family with a young kid. Most of the sellers sold because their kids were out of school.

I know people who rent here for the entire time their children are in school. They can't afford to buy the size home they want here, but they also want good schools for their kids. When that last kid graduates, they'll move on and you can expect their homes to be rented to families with kids.

The district has used the same idiotic demographers for years. Why?

And why doesn't the board ever call them on this fact?

Or do some long-term planning--i.e. open Garland, figure out a high-school alternative that can use part of Cubberly.

Oh, right that would take initiative, planning, wise decision-making.

Like this comment
Posted by PillyP
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 14, 2010 at 9:00 pm

I would have to guess that JerryL isn't paying much in property taxes, as it sounds like he is a long-time resident. He wrote that his son and family is living with him, which means that his son's kids are getting a Palo Alto education for very little tax money. My parents live next to someone who has her daughter and grandchildren living with her because the daughther can't afford to live in Palo Alto (but wants her kids to go to school here). If we ended Prop 13 some of this would be equalized, because long-time residents who have their grandchildren move in to get a Palo Alto education would at least pay as much tax as those of use who moved here in the last few years.

Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 14, 2010 at 9:24 pm


And the benefit Prop. 13 confers to long-time home owners and, especially, corporate landowners is one of the reasons we can't get rid of Prop. 13. It's very unfair, but that also means some people make out like bandits as a result.

Like this comment
Posted by A solution
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 15, 2010 at 8:35 am

1. Prop 13 will never be overturned.
2. Students coming in from outside city limits are draining district resources. The one exception is the Tinsley program for opt-in EPA kids, which is not objectionable to the majority of PA residents.
3. Families found to have enrolled their children illegally should be fined substantially and their names made public. This would be an effective deterrent.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 15, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Maybe one solution is to charge a mandatory fee per currently enrolled student in pausd (as opposed to the "suggested" donation of $650/student to PiE). Those with family income below a certain level may be exempted. That'd hopefully discourage some of those families with a large number (4, 5 or 6 or even more!!) of school-aged kids from moving into Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 15, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Resident -
It would also be illegal.

Like this comment
Posted by PAUSD Mom
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 16, 2010 at 9:11 am

The increase in rentals should not be a surprise at all. Some years ago Greenmeadow residents did a study of census data that showed a large increase in households occupied by residents over the age of 75. These folks had not had children in the school district for thirty years.(The census data showed the # of owner occupied households decreasing by 2.5% in the 94306 zip code area while households age 75+ GREW by 41%--from 581 in 1990 to 821 households in 2000.) This was an indicator of future higher rates of turnover, and likely influx of families. Many seniors opt to rent rather than sell when they move, so it is no surprise that rentals to families have increased. Coupled with the production of new housing, factors have combined to create a "bubble effect." What surprises me is that the district is surprised. They knew this, and the L&G demographers dismissed the data, preferring their narrow linear analysis.

Much of the new housing now being built is for seniors. That is a good thing. We want our long-time neighbors to be able to stay in our community. However, as our elderly neighbors move into this new housing they will sell or rent their current single family homes. Few people who don't have children will pay premium Palo Alto prices to rent or buy homes if they don't need access to our excellent schools. L&G needs to find a way to incorporate this phenomenon in their analysis.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Don't be the last to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

First Sunnyvale, then Australia: Mountain View's Le Plonc plots expansion
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 2,453 views

Juggling Renewables
By Sherry Listgarten | 35 comments | 1,945 views

Premarital and Couples: Living as Roommates?
By Chandrama Anderson | 2 comments | 1,406 views

Homestead Faire at Hidden Villa 4/27
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 693 views

A trial run
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 527 views


Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.