http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2013/01/16/menlo-park-district-turns-to-public-to-help-plan-school-campuses


Almanac

Schools - January 16, 2013

Menlo Park district turns to public to help plan school campuses

by Renee Batti

Would the Menlo Park City School District community endorse significantly larger class sizes or year-round school? Judging from history, no. That's one reason the school district's option of terminating the lease with the tenants of its former O'Connor School site and opening its own school there is looking more like a reality.

The school board and district staff are moving into high gear to make a decision by mid-March about whether it will end the O'Connor site lease with the private German American International School. Community meetings and special board meetings have been scheduled for the next two months to get the public's views and ideas about how the district should proceed in the face of an ever-increasing student enrollment at its four schools: Encinal, Laurel, Oak Knoll, and Hillview Middle.

The board meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, to approve "guiding principles" the district will call upon to decide how to address the enrollment surge, and three community meetings will be held in February.

Board President Terry Thygesen said the community meetings are critical to helping the board decide among options, which include increasing class size or going to year-round school so that no new campus would be necessary; or creating a new school at the O'Connor site at 275 Elliot Drive in Menlo Park.

Although a list of options has been compiled, the board is open to the community's ideas beyond those on the list, Ms. Thygesen said. "We're throwing things out as an academic exercise, trying to seed a conversation. But no analysis on the various options (has been done.). That's the next step."

The list of options also includes creating a magnet school; and integrating Laurel School and a new school on the O'Connor site, creating a single K-5 neighborhood school.

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.

This year's enrollment is 2,791, up 81 students from the prior school year. In the 2013-14 school year, the district is expecting enrollment to rise to about 2,882, an increase of 91 students, according to Ahmad Sheikholeslami, the district's director of facility planning and construction.

A prior study projected enrollment for the 2014-15 school year at 2,847 — a figure that will be exceeded by 35 students one year early, according to current projections.

In accordance with a termination clause in the lease, the district must notify the German American school by April 10 if it is to end the lease. But district officials say they want to make the decision by the board's March 12 meeting to give the private school more notice.

The GAIS took over the O'Connor site in 1991; the lease expires in June 2016. The private school operates out of one permanent building and several portables, and has an enrollment of 315 students, according to its website.

The district has said that if it breaks the lease, a new district school may open for the 2014-15 school year.

For dates and additional information about the community meetings, call the district office at 321-7140.

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