Castilleja, an independent middle and high school for girls on Bryant Street, says it will seek permission from the City of Palo Alto to increase its enrollment gradually from 445 students to 515.
If permission is granted, school leaders said they would launch programs to curb traffic around the school -- including a possible student shuttle service to Los Altos, Ladera and Woodside -- that would sharply reduce even today's car count.
Neighbors, who described the current morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up at the school as a traffic nightmare on their quiet residential blocks of Bryant, Kellogg Avenue and Emerson Street, were skeptical. About 10 of them attended a meeting convened by the school Thursday to explain the plans.
"A lot of us have a lot of history here," said Stan Shore, who has lived across the street for 20 years. Shore referred to a contentious discussion in 2000 to allow the 106-year-old school to boost enrollment from 325 to 415.
"During the morning this school is at peak already," Shore said.
"I watch it, and the cars are backed up. I know there's a demand for more enrollment, but I tell you, we can't handle 60 to 80 more students."
Castilleja Head of School Nanci Kauffman said the need to boost enrollment is driven by several factors, including high demand for spots at the $36,800-a-year school, where about 20 percent of students receive tuition assistance.
"Castilleja has not been able to meet what's been an incredibly increased demand for our school, particularly at the high-school level," Kauffman said, adding that it's "truly sad" how many qualified girls the school cannot accept.
In addition, new revenue is needed to meet the cost of offering a top-notch program which, in today's world, includes computer science, Mandarin, digital fabrication and a strong arts component, she said.
"We don't want to become a much bigger school," she said. "I feel there's this sort of magic number. We want to bring in a greater number of more diverse young women so that girls who have unique interests aren't the only ones."
Kauffman said some of the new revenue would go toward meeting neighborhood traffic concerns. In a quick survey of 160 Castilleja families this week, there was strong interest in a shuttle service for students who commute from Los Altos, Ladera and Woodside, she said.
Sue Reyneri, Castilleja's director of finance and operations, said traffic consultants hired by the school have told them a 20 percent reduction in today's vehicle count could be achieved by the shuttle and other mitigation measures, even with the increased enrollment.
Neighbors at Thursday's meeting -- who said they were tired of Castilleja students parking in front of their homes in violation of posted signs -- weren't so sure.
Emerson Street resident Paula Powar said it shouldn't be her job to enforce the "no Castilleja parking" signs in front of her house, but she often has to do so. The portable signs are posted by Castilleja in an informal effort to clear space for homeowners and their friends to park.
Kauffman acknowledged that Castilleja's current enrollment of 445 already exceeds its city use permit of 415, and that the school has informed the city of that. The excess was due to the school's misjudgment of how many girls would accept its offer of admission, she said.
High Street resident Vic Befera said the school should have informed the neighbors. "You're in violation of your use permit," Vic Befera said. "Don't you think that's rather serious?"
Neighbors suggested other ways the school could curb traffic, including creating underground parking, using more online education to meet increased student demand and creating drop-off and pick-up points away from the school in places like Town & Country Village or Gamble Garden Center.
Kauffman, Reyneri and Castilleja trustees Barbara Rosston and Joe Martignetti said they would consider the neighbors' concerns and hold another community meeting August 15. The school has also announced it will hold a third community meeting Sept. 11.