Almanac

Schools - March 13, 2013

Uncertainty over adding school site

by Renee Batti

The German-American International School will have to wait until April for the final word on whether it will lose its home at the former O'Connor public school site.

The Menlo Park City School District board has asked staff for more information before making the decision on whether to end its lease with the private school and take over the campus to deal with burgeoning enrollment.

If the district wants to exercise its contractual right to terminate the lease at the end of the school year, it must notify the GAIS by April 10. But in January, board members said they wanted to decide the question at the March 12 board meeting to give the private school more notice.

At a special meeting on March 6, the board asked staff for more information to review at its regular March 12 meeting, delaying the O'Connor site decision until the regular board meeting on April 9.

The O'Connor campus, which the district operated as a public school until declining enrollment prompted its closure decades ago, is at 275 Elliot Drive in Menlo Park. The GAIS took over the campus in 1991, and its lease expires in 2016. If the district terminates the lease now, it could open a school there as early as fall 2014, district officials have said.

The district's enrollment has increased by about 40 percent since 2000, and is not projected to level out for several more years, according to district Superintendent Maurice Ghysels. The increase significantly exceeded enrollment projections done in prior years, and district officials have been struggling with the question of how to accommodate the additional students while maintaining class size and individual school enrollment at an acceptable level.

Ahmad Sheikholeslami, the district's director of facility planning and construction, said the staff, at the request of the school board, is preparing more information on options for accommodating enrollment growth by opening another elementary school campus at the O'Connor site, including the costs and benefits of a bond measure; the financial impact to the district of operating another campus; and possible attendance boundary configurations.

Another question staff will study is the possibility of leasing space on the O'Connor campus to the GAIS to operate a portion of its program, at least temporarily, Mr. Sheikholeslami said. That option might allow the private school more time to find a permanent home for its growing program — a major challenge on the densely developed Peninsula.

The March 12 meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the district office board room, 181 Encinal Ave. in Atherton. The board will meet in closed session at 4:30 p.m.; closed-session meetings begin with a public comment period.

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