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Despite new housing, enrollment is set to decline in Menlo Park school district

Demographer says new apartments won't fit the needs of families

Menlo Park City School District office in Atherton on July 28, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

A surprising trend is expected to hit one Menlo Park school district in the next five years: significant enrollment decline.

The Menlo Park City School District student body will stand at around 2,500 students in 2027, down 7.4% from 2,700 today, according to a report by Demographer Thomas R. Williams presented to the school board on Dec. 15. Current kindergarten enrollment is the lowest since before 2006, despite the impacts of the pandemic otherwise easing this year, demographers said. District students come from Menlo Park and Atherton, which boast some of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the country.

"All of my clients are hemorrhaging kids," said Williams. "You're actually doing better than everybody else. Cupertino is down thousands of kids. ... It's been a crazy few years."

The decline is due, in large part, to a lower birthrate and the assumption that housing in the district is unaffordable for many young families who would otherwise love to send their children to public school in the area.

"It's still way up from where it was in the 1990s," he said. "A little more space in your schools can be beneficial."

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The demographic trends in Menlo Park are consistent with other communities in the region, according to Williams. Increased enrollment in San Carlos is the one exception Williams is seeing.

In years past, Menlo Park district officials feared that schools would be overcrowded with students.

Where is new enrollment coming from?

Middle Plaza at 500 El Camino Real in Menlo Park on Jan. 3, 2023. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The district is expecting to grow by about 95 students in next school year when its transitional kindergarten (TK) program expands to all three of its elementary schools and opens to all 4-year-olds. TK enrollment is projected to rise from the current 41 children to 173 a year from now. Currently, the TK program is only offered at Lower Laurel School and is limited to older 4-year olds. If not for that increase, the total district enrollment would be forecast to drop by 37 students next year.

New housing in the next five years will contribute to the enrollment, with 100 additional students projected in 2027 from those dwellings. The majority of that growth is expected to come from families moving into three new apartment complexes this year. Springline near the Menlo Park train station, Realm on San Antonio Street near Menlo College and Stanford University's Middle Plaza along El Camino are all moving in tenants. All three are in the Encinal Elementary School attendance area and the new arrivals should lessen the anticipated decline in enrollment when compared to Laurel and Oak Knoll elementary schools.

Williams noted that many of the new apartment complexes coming online in Menlo Park should not lead to an increase in students because they're too small to be hospitable to families. These developments don't include affordable three-, four- or five-bedroom homes, he said.

Realm at 1545 San Antonio Street in Menlo Park on Jan. 3, 2023. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

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"We're seeing an aging of the population," he said. "It's sad. The most desirable districts to be in are going to have the least kids."

For example, at Springline there are only eight three-bedroom apartments and only 45 units over 1,000 square feet, according to the developer. The maximum apartment size at the Realm is also three bedrooms. The largest apartments at Middle Plaza are two bedrooms and rent will cost up to $4,700, according to its website.

Williams said that a problem with state housing mandates is that they encourage building the maximum number of new units, which lends itself to building more small units. For example, at the Parkline project proposed at the SRI campus, he expects that the more apartments that are built on the site, the smaller each unit will be.

Board member Sherwin Chen noted that the dip could provide the district with time to plan for an eventual increase in enrollment generated by new housing developments in Menlo Park.

Williams said he is doubtful that the city will be able to lay the groundwork for building housing that could accommodate families.

Springline at 1300 El Camino Real in Menlo Park on June 14, 2022. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Real estate for expansion on hold

Before the report was available, district officials had considered whether they should consider buying property to help accommodate growth.

The school board discussed, in closed session, purchasing 2 Lowery Drive in Atherton, an ideal location for expansion since it is next to the Lower Laurel School campus, said Superintendent Erik Burmeister. The price (the property sold for $5.6 million in 2021, according to Redfin) was going to be far too high for the district, though, he said.

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Angela Swartz
 
Angela Swartz joined The Almanac in 2018 and covers education and small towns. She has a background covering education, city politics and business. Read more >>

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Despite new housing, enrollment is set to decline in Menlo Park school district

Demographer says new apartments won't fit the needs of families

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Jan 6, 2023, 8:49 am

A surprising trend is expected to hit one Menlo Park school district in the next five years: significant enrollment decline.

The Menlo Park City School District student body will stand at around 2,500 students in 2027, down 7.4% from 2,700 today, according to a report by Demographer Thomas R. Williams presented to the school board on Dec. 15. Current kindergarten enrollment is the lowest since before 2006, despite the impacts of the pandemic otherwise easing this year, demographers said. District students come from Menlo Park and Atherton, which boast some of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the country.

"All of my clients are hemorrhaging kids," said Williams. "You're actually doing better than everybody else. Cupertino is down thousands of kids. ... It's been a crazy few years."

The decline is due, in large part, to a lower birthrate and the assumption that housing in the district is unaffordable for many young families who would otherwise love to send their children to public school in the area.

"It's still way up from where it was in the 1990s," he said. "A little more space in your schools can be beneficial."

The demographic trends in Menlo Park are consistent with other communities in the region, according to Williams. Increased enrollment in San Carlos is the one exception Williams is seeing.

In years past, Menlo Park district officials feared that schools would be overcrowded with students.

Where is new enrollment coming from?

The district is expecting to grow by about 95 students in next school year when its transitional kindergarten (TK) program expands to all three of its elementary schools and opens to all 4-year-olds. TK enrollment is projected to rise from the current 41 children to 173 a year from now. Currently, the TK program is only offered at Lower Laurel School and is limited to older 4-year olds. If not for that increase, the total district enrollment would be forecast to drop by 37 students next year.

New housing in the next five years will contribute to the enrollment, with 100 additional students projected in 2027 from those dwellings. The majority of that growth is expected to come from families moving into three new apartment complexes this year. Springline near the Menlo Park train station, Realm on San Antonio Street near Menlo College and Stanford University's Middle Plaza along El Camino are all moving in tenants. All three are in the Encinal Elementary School attendance area and the new arrivals should lessen the anticipated decline in enrollment when compared to Laurel and Oak Knoll elementary schools.

Williams noted that many of the new apartment complexes coming online in Menlo Park should not lead to an increase in students because they're too small to be hospitable to families. These developments don't include affordable three-, four- or five-bedroom homes, he said.

"We're seeing an aging of the population," he said. "It's sad. The most desirable districts to be in are going to have the least kids."

For example, at Springline there are only eight three-bedroom apartments and only 45 units over 1,000 square feet, according to the developer. The maximum apartment size at the Realm is also three bedrooms. The largest apartments at Middle Plaza are two bedrooms and rent will cost up to $4,700, according to its website.

Williams said that a problem with state housing mandates is that they encourage building the maximum number of new units, which lends itself to building more small units. For example, at the Parkline project proposed at the SRI campus, he expects that the more apartments that are built on the site, the smaller each unit will be.

Board member Sherwin Chen noted that the dip could provide the district with time to plan for an eventual increase in enrollment generated by new housing developments in Menlo Park.

Williams said he is doubtful that the city will be able to lay the groundwork for building housing that could accommodate families.

Real estate for expansion on hold

Before the report was available, district officials had considered whether they should consider buying property to help accommodate growth.

The school board discussed, in closed session, purchasing 2 Lowery Drive in Atherton, an ideal location for expansion since it is next to the Lower Laurel School campus, said Superintendent Erik Burmeister. The price (the property sold for $5.6 million in 2021, according to Redfin) was going to be far too high for the district, though, he said.

Comments

new guy
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 6, 2023 at 1:48 pm
new guy, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2023 at 1:48 pm

Looks like the district will have to end their constant expansion plans (for a while at least).

Favorite quote from story "Williams said he is doubtful that the city will be able to lay the groundwork for building housing that could accommodate families."

So great to hear a voice of reason.


margomca
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 6, 2023 at 4:02 pm
margomca, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2023 at 4:02 pm

The school age population is a sine curve, up and down. Right now we are in a down. It was in a down period when my family moved to MP in 1970. My daughter attended Fremont School for KG and 1st grade, after which the district closed the school and sold the property now used for Rosner House. When the population began. to rise, the district had no places for those new children. Class sizes rose. At the same time, Sequoia district closed 2 high schools, San Carlos and Ravenswood. Again when the population swing went up, class sizes were very large, but the 2 high schools were gone. Now they've had to build second stories, but the campuses are small to accommodate so many students. Yes, right now MP may be seeing a dip in school aged children, but as older folks, like me, move on, young families move in. When I moved to my current address there were virtually no children on my block. Suddenly I'm seeing toddlers and strollers all over. Look back in the history.


MP Resident
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 6, 2023 at 5:40 pm
MP Resident, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2023 at 5:40 pm

Last year, MPCSD's superintendent asked council to reserve part of the USGS property for a future middle school. There were no bids at the auction, and I haven't heard that the property found a buyer. That land has great potential for housing. I hope the city's revised housing element removes a future school from consideration and takes full advantage of this opportunity.


Brian
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 6, 2023 at 6:53 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Jan 6, 2023 at 6:53 pm

Didn't the school district use increasing enrollment as one of the primary reasons for the need to have an additional parcel tax? Gee, I guess they lied to us all. I wonder if they will give the money back? Ha Ha


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Jan 7, 2023 at 9:02 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2023 at 9:02 am

Brian:

Yes, they did. Despite repeated proof that what they were saying was a lie. Can't wait to see what the next lie is when they come calling for yet another parcel tax. They should try being honest. They have increasing costs for unfunded pension liabilities and they keep giving staff raises, which makes the unfunded liability worse.


Menlo 2024
Registered user
Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 7, 2023 at 3:46 pm
Menlo 2024, Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2023 at 3:46 pm

Tax payers who send their children to private school should be refunding that portion of their property taxes. Public schools failed us during COVID and continue to do so.


Parent
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 9, 2023 at 2:12 pm
Parent, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Jan 9, 2023 at 2:12 pm

Menlo Voter - the issue isn't the lie, it's the uncomfortable truth that there was not a strong effort to expose the lie.

Political organizations have discovered they can lie with no consequences, the misinformed voter will accept the messaging as the truth. Others will go along with the lie out of "feel good" voting, as in "let's do it for the children!"

The only way to counter the lie is for a few brave souls to stand up and point out the lunacy, and then volunteer their time and (gasp) money to spreading the word.

The problem is we have a shortage of brave souls. And thus, the frog boils.




Parent
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 9, 2023 at 2:18 pm
Parent, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Jan 9, 2023 at 2:18 pm

margomca - you're not mentioning the fact that in the 60's and 70's, families had 3-5 kids. Nowadays it's one, maybe two. We are in a long term population decline. But don't take my word for it, google Japan population decline, or Europe population decline. Hungary is reducing and/or eliminating income tax if people will simply have children.

As populations decline it creates a burden on the younger generations, both in terms of taking care of the older, and in funding social security.


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