School board wrestles with enrollment data | News | Palo Alto Online |


School board wrestles with enrollment data

Contradictory projections offer only slight guide to looming building decisions, members say

Building a new middle school or placing sixth-graders back in elementary schools were among the ideas tossed out Tuesday (Jan. 10) as the Board of Education wrestled with Palo Alto enrollment predictions.

In a three-hour session with a consulting demographer, board members parsed the data but -- because of unusually variable enrollments in recent years -- concluded it is hardly a foolproof guide for major construction decisions that are looming.

Those decisions include where to build desk space for rising elementary enrollment and what to do when middle school enrollment exceeds current capacity -- expected soon. Other decisions include what to do with the old Garland School campus, whose lease with a private school expires in two years.

"I don't think we can count on the data to bail us out and make us feel good," board Vice President Dana Tom said.

"It's more of a guess than we would like."

Board members noted that projections from the district's new demographic consultants, DecisionInsite, are not consistent with other recent projections.

The new projections -- based on trend analysis from the past four years -- predict a 4.4 percent decline in the next five years in enrollment in "north cluster" elementary schools -- Addison, Duveneck and Walter Hays.

They predict 7.5 percent growth in the same period for the "south cluster" -- El Carmelo, Palo Verde and Fairmeadow.

And they predict a 17.4 percent growth in the "west cluster" -- Barron Park, Juana Briones, Escondido and Nixon.

But board members worried that some of the surprising "west cluster" growth reflected one-time bumps from housing development projects completed in the past four years.

And they worried that other, hard-to-read trends were not captured in the projections.

"If aging parents start selling their homes there could be a generational shift that could affect our assumptions going forward," Tom said.

"If there's an area of town where we have a lot of people over 75 or 80, we should know that," board member Melissa Baten Caswell said.

"Because if these houses turn over -- even if they just become rentals -- our history is that young families move in, and I'd hate for us to be surprised by that."

Board member Barb Mitchell said the infrastructure decisions pressing the board are on a "grander scale" than the data in the projections.

"We have important decisions to make on how we're going to use Garland, where to put the next new classrooms at the elementary level and where we're going to put that middle school," she said.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly said the district needs to make decisions soon on where to add new capacity at the elementary and middle school levels.

"There are lots of options. The two I can think of is to add a fourth middle school, or moving some sixth graders to elementary schools and building more capacity there."

Capacity in the district's three middle schools are 1,100 each for Jordan and Jane Lathrop Stanford (JLS), and 700 for Terman. Current enrollment is 1,015 at Jordan, 1,001 at JLS and 663 at Terman.

"As I look, I see more enrollment than we have capacity for at middle school, but not at this point enough to justify a fourth middle school," Skelly said.

He alluded to history as a warning for the board to proceed cautiously and maintain maximum flexibility. He referred to a period of declining enrollment in the 1980s when former boards voted to close schools and sell the properties to housing developers.

"I think people would like us to make lots of hard decisions about things," he said.

"That's what folks did 25 years ago -- in terms of 'this trend is going to go down' -- and they were wrong. We could make the same assumption that the trend will go up, and we could be wrong.

"To me what we need to do is plan carefully and keep the most number of options we can."

Skelly said he will return to the board in February with options and recommendations on how to proceed.

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Posted by stephanie
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 11, 2012 at 11:00 am

I hope they look at the demographics of campus - there are still a lot of retired folks in houses and the turn over is going to continue - the majority of my immediate neighbors are in their 80s - and the last two houses that sold right near me added 5 children under the age a 6. I expect at least 4 houses within stones throw of me to go up for sale in the next year or so - and I'll bet they go to families with school aged kids. The board should be requesting age demographics for on campus homes including Peter Coutts, Ryan Court and Pearce Mitchell.

They should also be requesting data from Stanford on the families in Stanford West. When it was first built is seemed there were more couples than families, now it seems it's wall-to-wall kids. Finally, the RF's on camps seemed to have also changed from couples with grown or no children to families. All of this counts, and I am concerned that it's not being adequately assessed.

Maybe they are already looking at this data - I hope so!

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 11, 2012 at 11:35 am

Evidently realtors carefully track when homes were last sold and can calculate the approximate ages of the present residents. From that data they know there is a 'gold mine' of aging residents- over seventy- in the Addison, Walter Hays, and Duveneck areas. And some realtors are not shy in making multiple phone calls or visits or sending letters. Given that assisted living facilities are charging about $6,000 a month, and given that our aging population's income is based on fixed income, pensions if any, and Social Security - less if for a widow - many of our residents have no option but to stay put even if they have to get 'reverse mortgages'. The city also wants them to sell in order to get more property tax revenue. It's hard when seniors feel that they are a burden. When they pass away, the city gets more property tax revenue. But the school district will get more children. Can't win.

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Posted by Basic-Aid-Districts-Get-The-Lion's-Share-of-Property-Taxes
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm

> When they pass away, the city gets more property tax revenue.

> But the school district will get more children

This poster is sadly misinformed.

According to the AB8 "partitions" of property taxes, the PAUSD gets about 46% of all property taxes in its Jurisdiction (Palo Alto, Stanford residential and commercial properties), and the PAUSD section of Los Altos Hills. The City of Palo Alto gets about 9%.

It is amazing that so many people in the PAUSD (adults) know so little about the funding of their own school district.

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Posted by School Board Watcher
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Be careful of demographer's projections. In 1992 a demographer's report told the School District that they would have declining enrollment as far into the future as they could see. The School District paid thousands of dollars for that report which proved to be entirely wrong, and exactly the opposite happened!!!

On the other hand projecting that enrollment will increase by 4% to 13% may also be an over-expectation. The history of enrollment in Palo Alto shows that initially after WW11 it rose to over 15,000 then it sank to less than half, 7,500 by 1989; then it has steadily risen since then, but it could drop again - who knows. Demographers can make mistakes!!!

I am glad the School Board is being very cautious with regard to enrollment projections, they've learned from past mistakes. Meanwhile as a homeowning Senior in South PA who won't live forever, when I pass on my kids will sell my house, hopefully to a young family with many School age children!!!!

Meanwhile, the PAUSD has access to four elementary school locations in the future, Garland, Greendell, Ventura and Fremont Hills. They may also have to take back Cubberley in 2014. The School Board has some big decisions to make for the future, and they aren't straight forward or easy!!!!

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Why do they keep considering reopening Garland when the growth is in the south? They should reopen Greendell or move Ohlone to Greendell and make Ohlone a neighborhood school. Greendell's location is more suited for traffic.

I live near Jordan and the traffic on Louis Rd./CA Ave. to Jordan is getting backed-up at morning drop-off time. It wasn't backed up years ago, so obviously people are transfering to Jordan. Reopen Garland and the traffic will be unbearable because south PA parents won't want their children to ride their bikes across Oregon Expressway. Right now, Jordan has a majority of students riding their bikes so traffic is low. When traffic increases, accidents occur.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm

> The history of enrollment in Palo Alto shows that initially after
> WW11 it rose to over 15,000 then it sank to less than half, 7,500 by
> 1989

Just for the record--

At the end of WWII, Palo Alto's population was about 25,000, and its borders stopped at Oregon Avenue. All of South Palo Alto was farmland, and Barron Park was unincorporated Santa Clara County. The Los Altos Hills folks were not included with the Palo Alto Unified's jurisdiction.

With the annexation, and building of some 12,000 homes between Oregon Avenue (later to become Oregon Expressway) and San Antonio (Mountain View), the annexation of Barron Park, and the inclusion of the Los Altos Hills folks in the school district, the student population grew to about 15,000+ by 1970. Of course, these kids all graduated, their parents were still young, and saw no reason to leave Palo Alto because their children were off in college, or working, and the town was now "built out" .. so, the student population dwindled, to about half its highest number by 1978.

The history of the PAUSD from 1950 to 1980 was a one-time proposition. While ABAG wants to increase the housing stock by a goodly number of units, hopefully we Palo Altans will fight them on this.. and not allow the population of increase as rapidly as it did after WWII. Unfortunately, the resistance to ABAG has yet to appear in its full battle armor, so we still have to deal with the spectre of a lot of new housing that will doubtless bring some new children for 12-15 years after the housing is built.

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Posted by Gunn Alum
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 11, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Why not move Hoover to the old Garland site, and then make the campus on Charleston a neighborhood school for the south neighborhoods? Hoover is mostly a commuter school anyway, and if a parent signs up their child for that choice-program, they'll know that they'll be driving north to Garland.

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Posted by Gunn Alum
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 11, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Another note: Moving Hoover to the old Garland is more feasible than moving Ohlone. Ohlone has the farm and a new 2nd story. Hoover has already moved once, they might not be happy to do it again, but if it's for the good of the entire PAUSD and helps ease the overcrowding in the south...well, hopefully you see my point.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2012 at 6:27 pm

I would like to see some more innovation in these discussions.

Moving back 6th grade into elementary schools is one idea, but it may cause more problems than solve as some of our elementary schools are so impacted that trying to change boundaries to get 6th grades into some sites, eg Palo Verde, would be a big challenge.

I would like to see some other innovations. How about removing 9th grade out of high schools and put them somewhere else? How about moving the district offices at Churchill into rented accommodation somewhere else in Palo Alto and using the Churchill site for another elementary school, a middle school or a 9th grade campus? And where was the discussion about the Peninsula Day Care site?

With technology advancements, it may be possible to merge some classes at Paly and Gunn and have a teacher in one school teaching a classroom at Paly and Gunn at the same time and rotating between the two schools on different days. A video link between the two classrooms is indeed possible.

There needs to be more creative ways, we have the talent in town but we need a board who is willing to think outside the box. We don't need to have 20th century schools in a 21st century PAUSD.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 11, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Hoover or Ohlone to Greendell. Greendell has the large Cubberley parking lot and traffic signal so it's a better option for commuters.

Putting a commuter school at Garland would produce too much traffic backing up on Louis Road and North California at the 4-way stop sign. It would back up from North California to Oregon Expressway, like the Charleston/Arastradero scenario. There would be less impact on Middlefield.

Or here's a unique thought - make all elementaries neighborhood schools and ditch the choice schools.

Resident: Placing 6th graders back into elementary schools would be a mistake. Sixth graders nowadays are too mature to be with younger ones. How does having one teacher for both Paly and Gunn solve the overcrowding problem? High school students need more individual help than college students so a class should not be 60-75 students.

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Posted by Alternate solution
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 11, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Re: out of the box ideas--How about a serious consideration of the option for part-time public school for at least middle school and high school?

It is possible for public schools to allow parents of students who require outside instruction, whether for remediation or acceleration in a certain subject, to arrange for independent instruction and pull them out for that part of the day as long as expected progress is met according to the CA standards in that subject.

Win-win: students get help more appropriate to their learning needs during the school day, don't have to sit through a class where they are not learning, and it eases the issue of crowding--plus, families win back a little of their evening time together and the student receives more appropriate homework in that subject.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2012 at 11:18 pm


You make a couple of points following up on mine and they are valid.

6th graders are more mature because of being in middle school, there is a two to three week of adjustment in which they change very quickly as soon as school starts in the Fall. This may be delayed if they remain in elementary school and if 5th and 6th graders are treated with some hierarchy privileges, it may curtail the problem you mention. However, I don't think this is a good solution for many reasons, the biggest being as I stated that it would not really solve the basic overcrowding in elementary schools. But, I am glad it is a discussion point nonetheless.

The video class idea is just a vague idea of a solution for probably some of the AP classes which do not attract larger numbers of students and would probably even out the course selections anomolies between the high schools. This may be more of an issue with 3 high schools rather than 2, but it is another discussion which I would like to see the board address and it should come into the enrollment discussion. The reason being that technology is going to be a solution to some of our problems and we do need to bring it into the mix. It does of course have pros and cons, but a teacher with this type of class would probably have less classes to teach so the overall number of students would not be as high as a regular teacher/student ratio overall.

If new ideas are not thrown into the mix and thrashed about, we will never have change or innovation. Discussion is always worth having on some of these ideas, even at the lowest level. Thanks for your input.

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Posted by Distance-Learning-Rather-Than-Brick-N-Mortar
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2012 at 8:16 am

> High school students need more individual help than college
> students

There is no hard evidence that this is so. Certainly the current staffing levels for high schools don't show "classroom aides", like the elementary schools do.

> so a class should not be 60-75 students.

Why not? Distance learning allows class sizes to vary, and as well as to move course delivery from campus to home.

MIT recently opened up some of its course to the "world", and one class has seen 95,000 people enrolled:

Web Link

The idea that the PAUSD has to spend billions of dollars building classrooms and other facilities that sit idle most of the time is not sustainable, and will prove, over time, to be very bad public policy.

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Posted by laura
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2012 at 9:32 am

The old Peninsula Daycare sight on San Antonio should be opened up immediately as the 13th elementary school. It would fill up quickly since the overwhelming growth in student population is in south Palo Alto.

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Posted by School Board Watcher
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2012 at 11:43 am

They are not going to put Hoover into the Garland location, because that would put the two alternative schools close together. The whole idea of moving Ohlone to its present location was to place it somewhere in the middle of the school district away from Hoover, and locate both alternative schools within easy reach of the greatest number of students.

They cannot re-open Greendell without re-building it, meanwhile Garland can be used as it is.

Like this comment
Posted by How about this?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2012 at 11:49 am

How about creating mini-campuses for 9th graders before they feed to high schools? (This as been done elsewhere with wonderful effects.) This might solve our peer streaming problem into high school. It might also allow the district to create smaller high school sizes without reducing high school grade level course offerings.

Here's how we might do it:

Use some of the Cubberley campus as a new site for 9th grade, combining the Terman and JLS students on one small campus for one year so they can bond as a class before they enter the larger Gunn community. This also will create a smaller school environment at Gunn, without requiring the district to reduce course offerings at various high school grade levels.

Do the same for Paly by using the space that Administration offices currently occupy at 25 Churchill to build a site for a similar mini-9th grade campus for the Paly-bound Jordan and JLS students to bond as a class in 9th grade before they transition to high school.

Move administration out of their current dilapidated quarters to Cubberley. If we work it right, there may be 8-acres left over at Cubberley to maintain some community services, like child care which is desperately needed in the south.

As the district expands Young Fives, move some of that program and some of the Preschool Famiy program to Garland to combine with a small choice or neighborhood elementary program there. This would provide early childhood programs for families in the north.

Keep some of Young Fives and Preschool Family in the south combined with an elementary school program. The new combined Greendell/Peninsula Day Care site would provide adequate room for this.

If you move a choice program(s) into the north (which has NEVER absorbed a choice program before, then the south and/or west could take back some choice school campus space and use it as a badly needed neighborhood school.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2012 at 4:25 pm

"How about creating mini-campuses for 9th graders before they feed to high schools? (This as been done elsewhere with wonderful effects.)"

Where has it been done? I'm aware of New Trier (IL) but not familiar with any others.

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Posted by John
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jan 12, 2012 at 7:05 pm

I see more property taxes.

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