Palo Alto school board to discuss new enrollment data | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto school board to discuss new enrollment data

Demographer's report shows decline at elementary and middle schools; growth at high schools

As the school community continues to debate whether the district should open a new elementary, middle or high school — or some combination of the three — new projections show elementary and middle school enrollment declining while growth at Palo Alto high schools will increase over the next several years.

The school board will discuss at its Tuesday meeting a new report from the district's demographer, DecisionInsite, that covers enrollment through 2025-26 based on this school year's 11th-day enrollment data, the most current birth data for district residents, new housing information and historical enrollment trends.

DecisionInsite predicts that enrollment at Palo Alto's elementary and middle schools will decline by 3 percent during the next five years, while the high schools will grow by 16 percent (an additional 632 students) during the same time period. Overall district enrollment will grow at about 1 percent each year through 2018 before dropping in 2020, according to a report from DecisionInsite.

Kindergarten enrollment — which the report calls "often the most significant driver of overall future district-wide enrollment" — is estimated to slightly increase during the next 10 years. This comes after a steady decrease during the past three years, according to the report.

On Oct. 5, the school district's Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) elementary subcommittee presented a similar view on elementary enrollment: stable, not growing.

At the district's three middle schools, which board discussions on enrollment growth have pointed to as some of the most overcrowded sites in the system, there will be significant growth for one more year before decreasing, according to the demographer's report. Enrollment growth will peak at 3,118 in 2017 and start to decline as bubbles of smaller K-5 classes move through the system, according to DecisionInsite's report.

Palo Alto and Gunn high schools expect to grow as they absorb larger middle school classes, the report states. DecisionInsite estimates that total high school enrollment will peak at 4,481 in 2020 and then start to go down and stabilize.

EMAC's secondary subcommittee gave similar estimates in an October report. They estimate that the middle school population will grow from the current 2,991 students to 3,094 in 2016, and then stabilize somewhere between 2,500 and 2,800. High school enrollment, the subcommittee estimated, will grow from 3,865 students today to 4,591 in 2020, and then stabilize between 3,900 and 4,200.

EMAC's secondary group offered "optimal" sizes for both the middle and high schools based on academic research and their own analysis: 600 to 900 for middle schools and 1,200 to 1,700 for high schools.

The district is also facing an impending influx of students from new housing developments, particularly University Terrace, a Stanford University complex with single-family homes and condos, some of which expected to be occupied as early as September of 2016.

According to DecisionInsite, the district can expect approximately 179 students from University Terrace, and a total of 664 students from all new housing projects during the next three years. At peak years, this will be about 130 students entering the district, according to the demographer's report.

The board is set to hear EMAC's final recommendations for how to address both elementary and secondary enrollment in the district in January. Preliminary proposals have included creating a design task force that would look at opening a new 6-12 school at Cubberley Community Center and implementing more school-with-a-school programs or "house" systems at the existing middle and high schools; reforms to address elementary-level overflows; to move or potentially open new choice programs at elementary schools, among others.

A sub-set of the elementary subcommittee authored a "minority report" arguing the district does need to open a 13th elementary school, while the broader subcommittee recommended against it.

At the last board discussion on Nov. 10, two board members — Terry Godfrey and Ken Dauber — asked the the secondary group specifically return with proposals related to Palo Alto's three middle schools.

The EMAC secondary subcommittee wrote in a Dec. 3 open letter to the board that with their enrollment projections, the high schools will be in the "same exact position" five years from now as the middle schools are today. They project that middle school capacity will peak in the fall of 2016, with about 100 to 200 additional students, and the high schools will peak in 2020 with about 700 additional students.

"Said another way, it seems inconsistent and illogical to ignore the high school size/capacity/enrollment problem when there appears to be consensus today to tackle the middle school size/ capacity/enrollment problem, especially when it takes 3-4 years to meaningfully alter school capacity without relying on portables," the letter reads.

In other business Tuesday, the board will vote on a new gender-identity policy, more than two years in the making, that more comprehensively outlines transgender and gender non-conforming students' rights to ensure they are protected at school. Tuesday's board packet includes just more than 30 letters of support for the new policy from parents, teachers, local clergy, youth organization leaders and other community members.

The board will also elect its new president and vice president for 2016. The new president will assume the office immediately following the vote. Trustee Melissa Baten Caswell currently holds the position.

Other agenda items include discussion of a new business-mathematics program at Gunn; a proposed charge and approval process for the board's review policy committee; and the submission of plans to the Division of the State Architect (DSA) for Gunn's Central Building Project.

The Tuesday, Dec. 8, board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Read the full agenda here.

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23 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 8, 2015 at 9:15 am

It does seem inconsistent for the Board to have appetite to open up a new middle school to open up a new, fourth middle school while burying it's head in the sand regarding the new for a new, third high school. The student 'bubble' for middle school will happen in September 2016, up 100-200 students from today. The same student 'bubble' for high school will occur in 2020, up 700 students from today. No matter how you feel about the Superintendent or the EMAC volunteers, those 2 facts are indisputable.

Some will say, 'well our high schools are fine because didn't we just spend $200M in bond money to expand their capacity?'. The answer is not really. Surprisingly only a minority fraction of the $200M was spent on classroom expansion. And the EMAC team says that you can get to 2300 students at Paly and Gunn only if you make some unreasonable assumptions provided by the District.

I think we're going to find ourselves in a world of hurt if we don't think about this problem harder. As a taxpayer, it really bothered me when I read the section called 'Understanding the “true” enrollment capacity of Paly and Gunn' here: Web Link

Take a look. The Board and District should really look into this.

5 people like this
Posted by Reality
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2015 at 12:09 pm

@Barron Park Dad,
That's incorrect and a rewrite of history to say that only a fraction of expenditures went to creating capacity. The primary design guideline for the high schools was for enlargement. I went to meetings and still have the documents to prove it. We spent tens of millions just on the premium of multistory construction, justified by the need to create larger enrollments at those locations rather than reopening schools. Capacity was supposed to be 2500 students at the high schools,, and there was always an assumption that we could put in portables again.

15 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 8, 2015 at 12:42 pm

To 'reality': I would like to see the data.

The District's stated capacity for Paly and Gunn after the construction is complete is supposed to be 2300 students each, not 2500.

And I didn't say that zero dollars of the $200 million went to increasing the number of classrooms. But I did say that only a small minority of the $200 million went to increasing the number of classrooms.

So let's see the data. This doesn't need to be a debate around opinions. The facts are presumably already out there. Someone has them.

11 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 8, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Has anyone found the direct source for the district saying capacity of 2300? I'm surprised it's that low (limited by science labs, perhaps?) and I'd like to look more into it.

19 people like this
Posted by Enrollment fact check
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 8, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Let's go back and look to see when or why the schools were allowed to get so big. Enrollment reports from 2005-06 state that the board decided on desired enrollment ranges for all three levels. Elementary was 300-450, middle 600-900, and high school was a cap at 1,800. At that time, there were three elementary schools above the desired range: Duveneck, Escondido, and Hays. Both middle schools and both high schools were very close to the cap.

In 2006-07, the board increased these desired ranges to 340-450 for elementary, 675-950 for middle, and a cap at 1,975 for high. Why did they change? Was it because so many schools were going to go over the desired ranges?

As enrollment increased throughout the district, the board decided to increase class size to squeeze more students into fewer classrooms. On the elementary front, overflows increased as schools maxed out at a high of 25:1 in some cases, and bubble classes started to form for students coming in after Kindergarten. Operational money was tight and the district decided to build more capacity at the schools rather than open another school.

Money isn't tight anymore. Let's use this time to get back to our real desired enrollment ranges rather than treating our children like they are there for babysitting and just need a seat. PAUSD should be better than that.

16 people like this
Posted by another teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2015 at 12:56 pm

I just read this week's Oracle and I am furious at Max McGee and the EMAC Secondary committee, particularly Joe Lee. Before I get to that, let me just comment that as reported in the story above, two members of the school board requested that that the EMAC Secondary Committee bring at least one option to the board for opening a new middle school without the Wayfinder etc. High School in their final recommendations.

This story above contains an error when it says "The board is set to hear EMAC's final recommendations for how to address both elementary and secondary enrollment in the district in January."

This is wrong. The EMAC committee GAVE THE BOARD its final recommendations on December 3. You can view them here: Web Link

This document is entitled "EMAC Secondary Subcommittee Final Recommendations."

This document contains no information other than the opinion of the EMAC that our middle schools are "too big." They do not recommend whether or where to open a new middle school, how big it should be, or what the attendance area should be. That's all for the supposed "Design Task Force" to determine, even though it what they were supposed to do. All we have is their opinion, unsupported by anything, that the middle and high schools are "too big," along with curricular suggestions and the exhortation that "the time is now" to do what these 5 people want.

And on that note, they aren't done demanding, pushing, and lobbying and they aren't above taking their campaign effort to our own children. Take a look at this week's Oracle: Web Link

Joe Lee, the supposed chairman of the EMAC secondary committee (McGee being the eminence grise): “From a theoretical perspective we might be able to shove 2300 students in each of our two high schools, and that’s what the district has planned for in expanding Paly and Gunn,” he said. “What we’re saying is a little bit different. We’re saying, even if there is room—and actually we doubt that there is despite the stated capacity that the district claims—it’s going to be very tight. These schools are not designed for the number of students they have today or the 700 more students that will arrive by the year 2020.”

Ok, first, let's look at his language: according to Lee, the school board is trying to "shove" children into crowded schools. The EMAC wants to build them a nice shiny new place (or at least some very small number of them) but the bad old dumby school board wants to "shove you" in to a hole. Don't let the board "shove" you. Tell that board to build you what we want. That's just an unacceptable use of language aimed at children and intended to manipulate. [Portion removed.]

But wait - he's not finished:

"Lee says EMAC does not think it will be too expensive for the district to construct a new school as the majority of the land is already owned by the district. “Right now, we believe there’s a lot of money out there, net new money that people are willing to donate to the district for the purpose of opening a new, innovative high school,” he said. “These are potential private donors who are willing to cooperate with the City of Palo Alto and work cooperatively on something new and innovative.”

"However, the operating cost will be more difficult to fund. According to Lee, it costs $3.5 million a year to staff a high school with everyone except teachers. “The recommended approach that we want to take is to ask the district how much money would they be willing to invest in a new school,” he said. “It is the next committee’s responsibility to see if they can find the money. We’re going ask them, ‘How much are you willing to put up?’ The committee will be responsible for seeing if private donors can come up with the difference.”

This is so far out of your scope it boggles. This is a literal outrage -- as in I am outraged. Joe Lee: Stop looking for private money and trying to make policy decisions for the district-- whether and when to take private money into the public schools is a policy decision to be made by the board, which you are not on. The way you are handling this is insulting to the elected leadership of the district and also sexis, as if to say: "you ladies just tell us how much of your pin and egg money you want to put in and the big men VCs will take it from there."

[Portion removed.]

And in case you think that McGee isn't still pushing his agenda, he has learned nothing and is in no way chastened. Now he is announcing in the student newspaper that we wants to float a bond to build McGee Academy. [Portion removed.] Actually, it will be me and you paying for an expensive bond campaign to build capacity that our own demographer says that the district definitively does not need.

"In addition, the district may also issue another bond issue referendum. “I think people ought to have a say on whether or not they support this significant investment in the future,” superintendent Max McGee said."

Assuming that the Oracle students didn't get this wrong, we are not only getting the bum's rush we are getting it via the manipulation of our own children.

I want to take a moment here to note the enormous irony that in this same issue of the Oracle, the cover story and main story of the issue is "THE CHEATING CULTURE." Gunn students have written a lengthy examination of the fact that everyone at the school (87%) are cheating, and they attribute it mostly to the amount of academic pressure and stress they are under. One of the most common forms of cheating is copying homework, because they have too much homework. Paly did a similar story about cheating in the Campanile earlier this year. What did McGee say he will do about cheating? When the board brought it up, he first said it was a serious problem, then he came back 2 weeks later and said he had found that it was not happening at all and there was no cheating problem in Palo Alto. Huzzah! He fixed it.

He forgot to tell our students, however, who are all writing stories in which they interiew other students about how much cheating there is (A LOT) and how much they all cheat (A LOT) and why (THEY HAVE TOO MUCH WORK AND ARE TOO STRESSES) and the consequences it has for them (BAD. THEY FEEL TERRIBLE AND ASHAMED).

McGee does not want to do his job which is control homework, ensure that teachers use schoology, and stop cheating. He wants to open a brand new thing that he can be the principal of instead. Didn't you think it was even the tiniest bit weird when our superintendent jetted off to Singapore with a group of HS students (handpicked, natch)? Why is the super doing that? Shouldn't a science teacher do that? Shouldn't he be running the schools?

Today is the budget requests, and look at the proposals -- where is any money for suicide prevention and counseling? Nope. McGee has other things on his mind. That is very last year, that suicide cluster. Out of sight out of mind. Until it happens again. That won't happen. What are the odds of lightning striking three times? I mean twice was weird enough. Let's be a lighthouse! Let's show the world how it's done! Let's be an innovation highway or hub or something really good and fun and sparkly!

[Portion removed.]

This is a disaster, and it is only getting worse.

5 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 8, 2015 at 1:06 pm

As an example, take the social studies/history/econ building:
(not counting 315 as a room, this building provides 10 rooms.)
This building definitely housed more than 10 teachers - Bloom, Bolanos, Bungarden, Cronin, Edwards, Eggert, Farina, Foug, Rapaport, Sabbag, Whitson, and Yonkers make more than that and I am fairly certain they were all there at once. So I'm curious as to what capacity Paly has been running at for the past few years (before the new building), and how often rooms were in-use? It wouldn't shock me to learn that rooms in the Tower are often open while in comparison rooms in the SS building were almost always in use. The report definitely lacks context. Obviously running at such a capacity isn't ideal, but evidence might indicate that it's possible (and has been done before).

17 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 8, 2015 at 1:14 pm

To 'another teacher' - as far as I can tell, the EMAC parents are simply making recommendations to the superintendent and the board, not making policy decisions. The board of education gets to do that. You may disagree with their recommendations, but I don't see the need for outrage or the purple language. Propose your own recommendations to the board then.

To 'C' - yes, I would like to see the data too. Let's really dig into them. If what the EMAC folks are saying is true -- Paly and Gunn can't really hold 2300 students unless you make some pretty strict assumptions -- then our kids are in trouble when enrollment goes from 3900 today to 4600 in 2020.

12 people like this
Posted by Enrollment fact check
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 8, 2015 at 1:14 pm

@C - there is a slide hidden in a presentation titled "PAUSD Interests Regarding the Potential Sale of Cubberley" dated June 28, 2011. Slide 5 shows the "Plan for Middle and High School Growth. Middle Schools - build out Jordan and JLS to enrollment of 1100. High Schools - Build Gunn to enrollment of 2300. Build Paly to enrollment of 2300."

But let's not stop looking at enrollment ideas from the board 10 years ago. Let's go back all the way to 2001! The enrollment projections report dated January 9, 2001 from Bob Golton to then Superintendent Don Phillips, states the following in the last paragraph:
"If high school enrollment were to grow to the level of the high projection, the two schools would have an average enrollment of 2,240 students. If this seemed likely, it would be recommended that a small alternative or focused third high school be considered. Recall tha tthe district still owns the Cubberley site. It is recommended that the district defer decision making on the question of a third high school until such time as it appears that enrollmnet will actually exceed the medium projection (1900 each)."

Okay, decision deferred, and deferred, and deferred again. Let's get back to it. This idea is not new. Do you think the EMAC was really the first to come up with the idea of a small alternative high school? Let's stop going around and around in circles and just get something done!

19 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 8, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Also, RE cheating:
The problem is that there is one particular group of parents impeding any change -- they're all for punishing cheating until it's their kid who's caught, at which point it becomes "But let kids be kids" "children make mistakes" "This is too harsh" "Our children are too stressed, of course they're trying to relieve themselves!" etc. And then they complain to the teacher/administration about poor little Johnny until something is done. In my opinion, PA isn't going to do anything about cheating while there will be a vocal minority unless the remaining parents** get together and complain cheating isn't being dealt with because otherwise it'll just turn out to be another disaster. Also, and this is my opinion alone, the biggest issue is cheating on tests (you'd think cheaters would get 0's and have to retake the course, but no. Then they might not graduate in 4 years, even if they don't deserve to!) not cheating on HW - even legitimately collaborating with a friend is considered "cheating" which is why the numbers are so high.

[Portion removed.]

**I say parents because all evidence indicates the district (cough cough McGee) doesn't care about students.

6 people like this
Posted by another teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2015 at 1:31 pm

You skipped a decade. There was a High School Task Force that considered the third high school in 2007-08 and decided not to do it. There were a lot of reasons and you can read the old articles about it on Palo Alto online and even watch videos of their very transparent meetings. This was a Blue Ribbon panel that had broad representation, professional facilitation, and that looked at the issue. Kevin Skelly determined not to do it and the board supported that decision and decided to build larger instead.

That was a bricks and mortar decision. It cost $200M of taxpayer money. It would be the height of irresponsibility to just decide that money is "sunk costs" and start over. That train left the station. It's just too late to revisit it. Some decisions can't really be unmade, and there isn't limitless money despite the horde of private donors that are apparently waiting in the wings to donate to the richest district in the state.

[Portion removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Enrollment fact check
a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 8, 2015 at 1:44 pm

@another teacher - I skipped a decade for a reason. To show that this discussion has been ongoing for 15 years. Actually, I have articles going back to 1997 that show the desire by the board for a 13th elementary school. That's almost 20 years of the same discussion and some of us are so tired of it!

31 people like this
Posted by Crowded now, BUT...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2015 at 2:08 pm

All of the PAUSD schools are crowded now.

However, there are many, many Chinese ex-pats in this area, particularly Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills, who paid for their houses with cash. Most, if not all, borrowed this money from banks back n Chins, and left secretly--taking these millions with them. To date, not one has made any effort to repay these mega-loans to their Chinese creditors.

The government and central banks of China have vowed to prosecute these so-called criminals, seize their homes, assets, and bank accounts--all while forcing their return to China for trial as enemies of the state. How they will accomplish all of this is anyone's guess. According to sources such as Strat-4, Barron's Weekly, The Economist, etc, China plans to enlist the aid of the US in this, which probably means extradition.

If and when this occurs, with the current enrollment of Chinese nationals in PAUSD at approximately 40% of total,Maithili a few years there will be a huge drop in enrollment at all levels. No need for any new buildings-- anything built in the interim will end up going the way of the former Cubberley High School.

Add to this the tarnish on the PAUSD brand, the number of people pulling their kids out of PAUSD for middle and high school and placing them in private schools, and PAUSD may actually go begging.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2015 at 3:04 pm

The numbers in the schools will increase the more residences built in the town. More residences = more residents = more students.

Kids live with grandparents, post grad students, and single adults. Just because a certain "type" of housing is supposed to be for seniors, for post grad students or for single professionals, it doesn't always follow that no children will live there.

If we are building more homes of any type in Palo Alto, it will follow that the people living in them will quite probably have children living there at some stage and these children will want to attend our schools.

2 people like this
Posted by Reality
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2015 at 6:41 pm

@Barron Park Dad,
You can at any time go back and watch all the old school board meetings involving DLM and their take on their mandate, as well as all the costs.

A single building of new classrooms at Gunn cost over $20 million. Half the classroom space would have saved more than half the money.

The premium on building multistory cost the district tens of millions, and those extra costs were associated only with enlarging campuses rather than reopening other campuses.

That's just one way. The primary consideration as stated by DSM in design was enlarging campuses. The 2300-2500 seems now to have been dropped to make someone's point. If the district thinks 2300 is not possible, they have a lawsuit against the contractor. Someone is trying to backpedal now that they want to do something else. The die is cast.

2 people like this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 8, 2015 at 9:12 pm

I think that enrollment will go down because the housing prices are simply getting too high for most families with kids.

Given the new demographics of this area, I never understood why the district put so much money into certain major projects at Gunn and Paly over the past few years. Non-academic subjects like athletics and fine arts are not popular with newer immigrants from developing countries.

Interestingly, I know of two families in our area who recently pulled their kids out of the elementary school, and the others family will be sending their kids to Castilleja.

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