Almanac

Schools - February 24, 2010

Las Lomitas district unlikely to expand to deal with surge in school enrollment

by Renee Batti

A few years ago, there may have been a range of options acceptable to Las Lomitas School District officials to address the surge in enrollment the two-school district is experiencing.

But with the economy in deep recession, no local revenue growth and state cuts in education funding, a third campus or new buildings on existing campuses are recently examined options that appear unlikely to become reality.

In the next month or two, a committee of district staff, teachers, parents and other community members that has met for about nine months to study the enrollment issue is likely to recommend that the district deal with the enrollment surge with the addition of one or two portable buildings, if needed.

"In some respects, the conversation we began last year (about handling growing enrollment) crisscrossed with the conversation we're having to have now" about revenue shortfalls and the need to make about $1.5 million in budgetary cuts, Superintendent Eric Hartwig told The Almanac. The school community would be having "a more spirited discussion" about options such as expanding facilities if it were not for the dire financial situation, he said.

The district's enrollment has been growing at a rate of 4 percent a year for the last three years, Mr. Hartwig said, adding that the growth rate before that had been between 1 and 2 percent. Enrollment is expected to increase by 4 percent annually until 2015, at which time it could level off, then decline, he said. He cautioned, though, that accurate enrollment predictions are difficult to make.

Current total enrollment is about 1,200 students in the two schools: Las Lomitas (K-3) in Atherton, and La Entrada (4-8) in Menlo Park.

The committee studying the enrollment issue looked at options including building a new school on one of its two leased-out properties, one in Ladera and one near the district office in Menlo Park. The district now takes in $1.6 million in lease revenue from those sites.

But that option, and another that would involve building new permanent structures on the existing campuses, would probably require approval of a bond measure, something there appears to be little appetite for. Committee members and district leaders are aware that people are feeling pinched financially, and are reluctant to ask for more money at the ballot box, Mr. Hartwig said.

Also, he said, by the time new facilities were finished, "the enrollment bubble might be gone."

"It looks like the most logical direction to go would be to absorb our students as best we can because the growth doesn't seem to be permanent," he said.

The Feb. 10 school board decision to increase class sizes in the two schools to avoid having to hire new teachers makes the decision to absorb the students easier, Mr. Hartwig said. The board's decision was part of a package of moves that are expected to slash the budget by nearly $1.2 million.

The board will review the enrollment committee's report and recommendations as early as March 10, though the date is not firm, Mr. Hartwig said.

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