As the Palo Alto community continues to debate class size and school capacity, enrollment is sharply down at the school district’s elementary schools, slightly up at its middle schools and temporarily dipping at the high schools, according to a report the Board of Education will hear at its meeting Tuesday night.
Elementary enrollment has dropped by 259 students -- almost equivalent to the entire student population at Barron Park Elementary School -- to a total of 5,219 students. The decrease is far greater than the district's conservative projection of 152.
Enrollment is down across all elementary sites, according to the district, and kindergarten enrollment also continues to decline following the implementation of a new age cut-off several years ago. The largest elementary site is Ohlone Elementary School with 578 students and the smallest is Barron Park with 287.
And though it is the fourth consecutive year of elementary enrollment decline in Palo Alto Unified, following a decrease of 176 students last year, the district anticipates stable growth over the next five years, according to the report.
The district’s three middle schools, which board and community members often describe as overcrowded, continued to grow this year by 101 students.
JLS Middle School continues to have the largest enrollment at 1,209 students, compared to 1,169 at Jordan Middle School and 712 at Terman Middle School, which has the smallest physical school site.
The middle schools are currently at or very close to capacity, the report states. Additional growth this year and next has been accommodate with portables. The district expects middle-school enrollment to stabilize in the next two years as the current smaller fourth- and fifth-grade classes move forward.
As promised by district leadership, the enrollment report includes an update on not only average class sizes at the secondary schools, but also minimums, maximums and numbers of sections for individual courses at each school.
According to a staff report prepared by Chief Student Services Office Holly Wade, middle-school classes are "hitting most of the target class sizes" in the core subject areas of English, history/social studies, mathematics and science, as well as world language.
Under the district’s adopted student-teacher ratios, all sixth-grade core classes and all seventh- and eighth-grade math and English classes should have 24 students.
Currently, 6 percent of all middle-school sections have 30 or more students in them, according to the enrollment report.
"While some of these classes at or over 30 were unavoidable due to limited sections and strong registration rates, there are a few areas that could be balanced to decrease this percentage to even less than 6%," Wade wrote.
At Palo Alto and Gunn high schools, enrollment is down slightly, by 33 students, but is expected to grow as the large middle-school "bubble" classes arrive in the next few years. The high schools can accommodate the projected growth, a staff report states, though community members and at least one board member, Ken Dauber, have been pushing for the district to invest in hiring more teachers to ensure class sizes don’t swell.
This year, there are 1,985 students at Paly and 1,885 at Gunn.
At the two high schools, 11 percent of all class sections have 32 or more students, according to the district. The district’s official ratios require freshmen math and English classes to have 24 students; 10th-grade English, 26 students; and all other classes, 28.5 students.
"The district will continue to work to decrease the percentage of students in the secondary schools who have one or more classes above target class averages, but the schools overall are off to a strong start with class sizes being appropriate and conducive for learning," Wade wrote in her report.
She added that the district is "well positioned" to meet the "very realistic goal" of having all middle-school core classes enrolled at under 30 students per section and 32 students at the high schools "through continued review of staffing, efforts on balancing sections within the master schedule, and close discussion and study with each of the school leaders as they build the master schedule and identify areas that could be addressed while being fiscally responsible."
On Tuesday, the board will also have the fourth of several discussions on how to address a multi-million dollar budget deficit, the result of miscalculated property-tax projections the district discovered this summer.
According to a new estimate the district received in late August from the Santa Clara County Controller-Teasurer Department, estimated property-tax growth for the 2016-17 year is now at 4.61 percent, slightly below the July projection of 5.34 percent. The district had originally budgeted for 8.67 percent growth.
Though this drop means an additional $900,000 loss, bringing the district’s total budget deficit to $4.2 million, it is "typical" for the estimate to be lower in August as the Controller-Treasurer reserves money for tax refunds and estimates conservatively on unsecured tax collections, Chief Budget Officer Cathy Mak wrote in a staff report. Staff has revised previously prepared multi-year budget scenarios with this new projection.
However, "based on past experience," Mak anticipates the actual revenue growth to be higher by the end of the fiscal year.
The district will also hold a second town hall meeting on the budget shortfall to collect further community feedback on Thursday, Sept. 15, 7-8:30 p.m. It will take place at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave., and also be streamed online.
In other business Tuesday, the board will vote on new mathematics curricula to pilot at the elementary schools this year; review a proposed schematic design for a major revamp of Addison Elementary School; and discuss putting out bids for Gunn’s Central Building Project, among other items.
The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Read the full agenda here.