The Peninsula's high cost of living is driving low-income families away from elementary school districts in Redwood City, East Palo Alto and the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park, and lowering long-term enrollment projections for parts of the Sequoia Union High School District, according to a new demographic report commissioned by the district.
The governing board is set to discuss a report on the study on Wednesday, Jan. 20, in the district office at 480 James Ave. in Redwood City. The meeting starts at at 5:30 p.m.
The study by demographic consultant Tom Williams projects a district enrollment of 9,447 for the 2020-21 school year, about 500 fewer students than he forecasted in 2013.
The change, a district staff report says, is a consequence of "the effects of gentrification, which has manifested itself in K-8 enrollment declines in Ravenswood and Redwood City elementary districts." Three new charter schools in Redwood City also drew students, the report says.
In the Redwood City School District, student population had been averaging a loss of 13 students a year, but that number climbed to 115 in 2015, the report says. In the Ravenswood City School District, which serves East Palo Alto and the Belle Haven area of Menlo Park, the average yearly decline of 38 students increased to 110 in 2015, the report says.
If current trends continue, the demographic study concludes, Woodside and Sequoia high schools could have lower enrollments in 2023 than they have now.
Previous predictions of a steep rise in elementary district populations, particularly in Menlo Park, San Carlos and Belmont, led the Sequoia board in 2014 to seek, and the public to approve, a ballot measure to fund new construction.
The measure allows the district to borrow up to $265 million in the bond market to expand facilities at the four comprehensive high schools, and to build two new magnet high schools -- one in Menlo Park and another in San Carlos -- for about 400 students each.
Plans for the Menlo Park magnet school should continue, the report says, since the study does show continued growth in student population within the Menlo-Atherton High attendance area. But unlike other Sequoia district communities, between 10 percent and 18 percent of households in the M-A community choose private high schools, which adds an element of uncertainty, the report says.
"All of this evidence reinforces the need to open the Menlo Park small (magnet) school as an outlet for enrollment that would otherwise be destined for Menlo-Atherton and to a lesser extent, Sequoia and Woodside," Superintendent Jim Lianides said in the report.
The latest forecast indicates a "more stable picture" for the northern end of the district, the Carlmont and Sequoia high school communities. In Redwood Shores, the Design Tech charter school is expected to open in 2017 on the Oracle campus. The report notes that "relatively few students choose private high schools from these communities, thus, there is less potential variance that can enter into the projections for these two high schools."
One take-away: A "wait and see" approach to the building of a second small magnet high school in San Carlos, Mr. Lianides said.
One wild card: The effect on enrollment from new and/or expanding charter schools.