Enrollment will peak next fall

Publication Date: Wednesday Jan 1, 1997

SCHOOLS: Enrollment will peak next fall

Experts say Palo Alto kindergarten classes will hit high in September, then decline

by Elizabeth Darling

Demographers for the Palo Alto school district have revised earlier forecasts and now say kindergarten enrollment will peak next fall and then begin to decline for the next several years. The demographers, Shelley Lapkoff and Jean Gobalet, discovered that contrary to their earlier information showing an increase in births in 1995, births actually declined in that year, meaning the number of 5-year-olds ready for kindergarten at the turn of the century will be slightly less than they expected.

If the historical average continues, the demographers say, kindergarten enrollment will peak next year at about 622 children, and then decline. By the year 2000, it will be back at its 1990 level of approximately 570.

State demographers expect county births to decline 8 percent over the next 10 years. "If they are correct, PAUSD births are likely to decline even more (by 10 percent using a medium forecast) because there is little housing growth in Palo Alto compared to the rest of the county," the analysts said in a report to the district. The report will be presented to the school board Jan. 14.

But at least one school official was cautious about how the report should be interpreted.

"I don't think that the fact that they've said the birth rate is trending down is going to affect whether we open a 12th school," said school board President John Tuomy. (See related story on page 9) And, he added, "personally I remain skeptical that (enrollment) is going to decrease as much as they say," since many families move to Palo Alto after their children are born.

Lapkoff and Gobalet predict that projected residential development will have little impact on enrollment, since much of the construction under way is multi-family. Apartments and condominiums tend to attract fewer families with children than single-family homes. Their analysis did not include the proposed Stanford West project, a 628-unit housing project on Sand Hill Road.

According to their medium forecast, total Palo Alto school district enrollment will reach a high of 9,999 in the year 2003. Elementary enrollment will peak at 4,506 in 1998; middle school at 2,359 in 2003; and high school at 3,507 in 2007.

The district and the school board rely heavily on demographic projections in making decisions about reopening a 12th elementary school and expanding other schools. Many decisions about the district's $143 million school bond construction project also hinge on enrollment projections.



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