Almanac

Schools - September 25, 2013

School board may change policy on busing EPA kids

by Dave Boyce

A decades-long policy of having East Palo Alto teens take a bus to high school in Woodside or Belmont may come to an end on Wednesday, Sept. 24.

The board of the Sequoia Union High School District meets at 5:30 p.m. at the district headquarters at 480 James St. in Redwood City to consider a request from the East Palo Alto community that the students attend Menlo-Atherton High, which is much closer to the neighborhood.

The board is likely to have to wrestle with the question of exactly how many East Palo Alto students should go to M-A starting in August 2014. At about 2,000 students, M-A is at or near its capacity, according to one board member.

The Ravenswood City Elementary School District did not respond to a request for an estimate of how many eighth-graders it expects to graduate in June 2014.

The board is addressing this policy as part of a larger issue: District enrollment is expected to grow from 8,300 students today to 10,000 in 2020, or about 2,400 students for each of the four comprehensive high schools, according to Superintendent Jim Lianides.

The enrollment projection is based on current elementary and middle school enrollment. It does not take into account the ongoing growth in housing, including multi-family complexes going up in Menlo Park and Redwood City, Mr. Lianides said. Nor does it include the 1,200 students expected to attend charter public high schools, including East Palo Alto High, and Summit Prep and Everest in Redwood City.

In a series of community meetings in May, Mr. Lianides asked for community input. Two priorities emerged: keep middle-school communities intact, and continue the open-enrollment policy that allows students a choice of high schools.

Parents from the Las Lomitas Elementary School District and the North Fair Oaks neighborhood south of 5th Avenue in Redwood City have expressed significant concerns that their children might be reassigned away from M-A. At least one board member said that's unlikely.

Member Olivia Martinez described as "zero" the chances of splitting the Las Lomitas graduates between M-A and Woodside, for example. As for the North Fair Oaks parents, Ms. Martinez said she didn't see a problem in having their children continue to attend M-A.

The board is also faced with redrawing the district map, which could also change high school/neighborhood connections, and with finding the money to increase the physical capacity of the schools. A task force will be working on what expansion might look like, which would inform a proposal for a possible bond measure.

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