Committee to take broader look at enrollment in Palo Alto schools

Board urges goal to go beyond potential 13th elementary school

The third time's the charm, the school district hopes, as it moves toward creating the third committee in two years that is charged with issuing recommendations to the board on how to best accommodate growing enrollment in Palo Alto's schools.

School board members Tuesday night were encouraged that a committee with a broader scope, charged with looking deeper and beyond the isolated option of opening a thirteenth elementary school, will be the renewing push that this long-debated issue needs.

"When we've done this before, it's always been about the financials and the number of students we have," said board President Melissa Baten Caswell. "That's always been the driving force. It's always been a bit frustrating to me because really, it should be, 'What do we want our academic program to look like? What do we want the environment around that academic program to be?' And then, 'How can we accomplish that and serve all the kids that come in to us?'

"It's been backwards. I think this is a way to make it forwards," she said.

The new advisory committee will be tasked with bringing to the board a set of "strategic, evidence-based, actionable recommendations that will enable the district to design, develop, and implement short- and long-term plans for accommodating projected PAUSD enrollment," the group's charge reads.

These recommendations are not limited to a thirteenth elementary school, but could mean a new K-8 school, fourth middle school or something else entirely, Superintendent Max McGee said. The committee will also explore the possibility of changing attendance-area boundaries, moving popular choice programs or recommending new ones.

Board member Camille Townsend stressed the importance of the committee coming up with multiple fleshed-out options for the board to eventually vote on.

"Part of the reason we have committees do this is not that they have the answers," she said. "It's that they get their questions answered and it exposes the information throughout the community that this is complicated. I'd like to see the information they come up with. For me, I'd like to see options."

Board member Ken Dauber agreed, but repeated a point he continually made throughout the recent school board campaign: The district needs to deal with its overcrowded elementary schools, even if recent data shows temporarily slowing enrollment growth.

Total enrollment in kindergarten through fifth grade this year is down by 131 students, from 5,816 last year to 5,685 this year, according to the 14th-day enrollment report released in the fall. (However, a total of 132 K-5 students were overflowed this year, meaning there was insufficient room for them to attend their neighborhood school.)

"What I do want to make certain of is that we don't treat enrollment growth as the criteria because I think that with respect to elementary schools ... there's a good case for middle schools as well, our current state isn't the state that we should be happy with," Dauber said.

Dauber also urged McGee to think about the time and opportunity costs of yet again deferring a board decision on enrollment.

"I encourage you to make this as short a time frame as is reasonable and to focus the committee on where we can get value out of committee's work," he said. "The committee doesn't need to boil the whole ocean."

Dauber said the committee, for example, doesn't need to make any financial recommendations to the board, but rather simply present the costs of potential options.

All board members also told McGee that they want to be connected to the process and that both they and the public are regularly updated on the committee's work, which is slated to begin in late February or early March, McGee said.

The committee's charge will return to the board at its next meeting on Jan. 27 for approval, after which the application process would begin. The committee will aim to issue its recommendations to the board this fall.

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6 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 14, 2015 at 10:04 am

I was a member of the AAAG several years ago when my Paly student was still in elementary school. We spent many evenings being educated on all the necessary aspects of school boundaries and other issues. There were many parents, teachers, union reps, after school childcare reps, etc. involved. We spent a great deal of time on this and made a recommendation for a 13th elementary and also to call the lease on Garland. All these recommendations were ignored and although at a later date the lease was called and expensive plans drawn up for a huge elementary at Garland (not what we had envisioned at all) that was subsequently dropped too.

I hope that at last something will be done. All our schools are huge compared to what they were a couple of decades ago. The neighborhood feel of schools is lost and the commutes and traffic problems get worse with every school year.

This is very much overdue.

5 people like this
Posted by Solution
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 14, 2015 at 10:20 am

Reopening Garland had most of the students from South Palo Alto. Louis Road would have been backed up past OrEx because no South PA parent would want their child crossing OrEx. South Palo Alto is where the growth is so that's where an elementary should be opened.

The choice schools should be discontinued and returned to neighborhood schools. Three choice schools are increasing the traffic in Palo Alto. They were only created in the 80s when enrollment was down, about the same time as EPA students came to PAUSD. End choice schools, end the VTP and keep Palo Alto schools for Palo Alto residents.

5 people like this
Posted by Try harder
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2015 at 1:07 pm

I hope that the district will focus some energy toward the "commuter" students in the district. These are the students that are traveling from outside the district and attending PAUSD schools even though they do not live in the district. Many students have found loopholes in the system which allows them to look like they live in the district. This has been going on for many years.

1 person likes this
Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 14, 2015 at 1:13 pm

When studying school expansion options, I hope that the people tasked with this effort will push the city to take into consideration the cumulative effects of ALL development on school enrollment and on traffic which affects kids' safety. (Recently Foster City residents started a movement to curtail all new development until the impacts of PRESENT developments on school enrollment and traffic are understood.)

The problem is increased population density, and ever-increasing commercial development causing ever more transit through and into our city.

While the school board must plan for accommodating all students, the City is responsible for controlling the population growth, and the board should take a position that protects the educational options that students now have, (like choice schools) AND also join advocates for safety regionally.

Here's the Traffic Jam Plan for Palo Alto, which will affect students as well as commuters:

The planned Caltrain electrification and ridership expansion WILL, by admission of the Caltrain planners, increase (already level F) crosstown delays at all Palo Alto intersections in rush hours, during construction and forever thereafter, and there is no mitigation offered. The traffic problems caused by enhanced commuter rail transit will affect all school and job commutes.

The VTA's plan for dedicated bus lanes on El Camino WILL, by admission of the VTA's planners, increase the travel time on El Camino. The transit line, once installed, will legally enable high density developers to claim their plans align with the state's mandate for high density development along transit corridors, and will further impact schools and all of Palo Alto's school and job commutes. (Causing air and noise pollution locally that this strategy claims to mitigate regionally.)

IF the school board would consider (the often suggested strategy) of changing the school hours to ones that fit children more than adult work schedules, this issue might be SLIGHTLY more manageable. But the real problem is that this community is squeezed by four parallel commute corridors (101, Alma, El Camino, 280) with no crosstown mitigation. Even WITH a proposed crosstown shuttle, (with comparatively few riders) ALL traffic will be worse from the increased frequency of the trains. All neighborhoods will be experiencing cut through efforts by frustrated drivers, and this will make our neighborhoods less safe for students and residents alike.

I hope the school board will consider what's in store for our children, and our entire community, and ask for much more moderate growth.

3 people like this
Posted by PAUSD committees are a ruse
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 14, 2015 at 7:11 pm

Charles Young led the Homework Committee three years ago, but the latest forum thread on paloaltoonline has triggered hundreds of unhappy, unsatisfied posts. This committee will be run as the other committees: it is a distraction to make the public feel like they have a say. That is pretty cynical of the board to do after suffering the seven years of Skelly and an atrocious four years of the board, defined by the "cut the mike" incident of last year.

2 people like this
Posted by Overcrowded
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jan 15, 2015 at 11:29 am

When we moved here several years ago, we came from a community in which the elementary classroom population teetered toward 40 children. We were so relieved to see 22-25 children per classroom here

Now, my youngest child is in middle school, and the classroom population at Jordan averages 33 children on my daughters classes. She receives nowhere near the teacher attention or quality that my eldest son did all those years ago. Not only that, the teachers' precious time is further stressed by so many children from other countries who speak little or very poor English ( complicated by the fact that their parents refuse to allow them to speak English at home!).

It is so disappointing that for my daughter's sake we will be transferring her to a Catholic school, where class size tops out at fifteen students.

1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 15, 2015 at 5:51 pm

"IF the school board would consider (the often suggested strategy) of changing the school hours to ones that fit children more than adult work schedules, this issue might be SLIGHTLY more manageable."

Given that most PA households are double-income...this doesn't seem practical to me...

9 people like this
Posted by effective
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 16, 2015 at 7:52 pm

I know of students in Palo Alto schools who do not live in the city, but lie about living here. Tighten up on checks of elegibility and improve schools and teachers. How is elegibility done now? Apparently not as effectively as needed.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 17, 2015 at 10:57 am

Some of the kids from outside the city are the children of PAUSD teachers. This is an incredible perk that the teachers never have, that ought to be remembered when the union demands raises. There is great value in this to them. It also may explain if you see some children you don't recognize as being from your neighborhood, though.
It is also correct that over the years there have been parents who pretended to reside in this district but didn't (and didn't pay the high property taxes here!), parents who rented a tiny apartment (in addition to their primary residence elsewhere) in order to provide an address for school purposes; parents who have had kids live with grandparents and parents who had their kids basically living on their own (PALY suicide of circa 2002 overseas kid left with older sister while parents resided overseas). All kinds of schemes.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 17, 2015 at 10:58 am

*that the teachers HAVE here - a great perk

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