Palo Alto's city workers may soon get a new perk: the ability to enroll their children in local schools.
The city and the Palo Alto Unified School District are currently discussing the idea of opening district schools to children of city employees, an idea that the district board of trustees is slated to discuss in March. It is one of numerous ideas that has been discussed in recent months by the school district's Enrollment Trends and Options Committee, which is charged with assessing options for boosting the district's declining enrollment.
According to state data, the school district's student population has dropped from 11,745 in 2020 to 10,754 in 2021 to 10,509 in 2022.
City Manager Ed Shikada described the new program during the Thursday morning meeting of the City/School Liaison Committee, which includes elected representatives from the City Council and the school board. He said he anticipates having city officials testify in support of this concept, which he said is "in the interest of both organizations and the community at large."
"If there are slots available, we have potential for city employees to fill those slots and, in so doing, increase or improve the connection between our employees and the communities they serve," Shikada said. "As well as having the benefits, to the extent these employees are commuting to town, in having the flexibility to which schools their children would attend."
Deputy City Manager Chantal Cotton Gaines, who represents the city on the enrollment committee, said that the city has already surveyed its employees to see if they'd be interested in sending their children to local schools. Based on the survey responses, the city expects the program to add between 50 and 100 students to the school district.
The idea of adding children of city employees to local schools is part of a package of options that the enrollment committee has been considering. According to notes from its final meeting, which took place on Jan. 10, other options include expanding the district's boundaries, increasing its language immersion programs, adding learning centers at each site and having more "theme schools."
The district already has one "theme school" in the works, with Fletcher Middle School agreeing last fall to institute a focus on sustainability. With the new focus, Fletcher would be open to applications from students who would normally be assigned to Greene and Jane Lathrop Stanford schools, each of which has a higher student population than Fletcher.
School board member Todd Collins, who served on the enrollment committee, stressed that the number of new students that the new program for city employees would generate is relatively small.
"The main thing is that we realize that it's a very moderate number of people that we're talking about, which I think helps dimensionalize the conversation," Collins said.