Projected overcrowding numbers are up in the Sequoia Union High School District and the urgency to move forward with plans to combat growing enrollment is becoming an even bigger priority for its school board.
A June 2012 study stated the district would grow from 8,200 students currently to 10,000 students in 2020, but the latest information shows an increase over the original projections of about 400 more students, with the majority of growth concentrated in the northern part of the district. These revised projections are primarily due to an increase in grades K-8 enrollment and a recalibration of the estimated students going from eighth- to ninth-grades. Suggested solutions from Superintendent Jim Lianides’ facilities task force have included adding two new small schools with 300 to 400 students each through a bond measure and adding six additional classrooms to Menlo-Atherton High School with remaining construction funds, according to a staff report.
Board President Allen Weiner said the new projections highlight how important the bond is for the district.
“It reinforces urgency,” Weiner said. “We need to be planning for alternative facilities.”
At its Wednesday night meeting, the board agreed to host a study session on facilities 5:30 p.m. Jan. 22. During the session, the board will receive and discuss the recommendations from the facilities task force listing classroom and infrastructure improvements that will be needed at the four comprehensive high schools — Carlmont, Menlo-Atherton, Sequoia and Woodside — and existing alternative sites, including Redwood High School and Green Street in East Palo Alto.
The task force is aimed at exploring options such as boundary changes, open enrollment and opening new schools to address overcrowding and equity issues. It already advised the district to consider adding two new small schools, more classrooms and to seek a bond measure to pay for the changes. By early March 2014, the board would need to adopt a resolution placing the measure on the June 2014 ballot. The bond could also be put on the November 2014 ballot, but to wait beyond that time would not allow future projects to come online as the future students begin arriving, according to the staff report.
“They’ve certainly been trying to grapple with a really complex issue and it’s best addressed in a special study session,” Lianides said. “We want to talk in depth and need a couple hours to look at it very thoroughly. We very much need to address the need for the bond.”
Trustee Alan Sarver was in agreement with Weiner, noting they have a short window of four to six months to present the bond measure.
The board will be considering the task force’s recommendations during the Jan. 22 study session after its Jan. 15 regular meeting in which it will receive the proposed district boundary map and the updated enrollment projections from the district’s demographic consultant.
“This kind of session is really essential to address a lot of questions,” said Trustee Chris Thomsen.
Edith Salvatore, president of the Sequoia District Teachers Association, agreed the session is important and said it will give people an opportunity to ask questions and hear about the research in greater depth.
“I do think there are many reasons to expand input for the bond,” she said.
Additionally, the district voted to adopt an initial study and mitigated negative declaration for the district’s alternative school campus expansion project in East Palo Alto, which was purchased with some of the remaining $165 million Measure J bond, passed by voters in 2008. On Aug. 6, the district purchased 980 Myrtle St. in East Palo Alto with the intention of expanding its current 1050 Myrtle St. campus with 11 additional classrooms. On Aug. 13, the board approved hiring TRA Environmental Sciences to begin the California Environmental Quality Act process, according to the report.
The district would need to look into having eight-period days and two lunch periods, with teachers possibly moving around to two or three classrooms in a day if no changes are made, Lianides said.
Inequity in the district has also been of concern for trustees, who in October voted 4-1 to allow more students from East Palo Alto to attend Menlo-Atherton High School. This acted as a way to allow more East Palo Alto students to attend their local school, rather than taking a long bus ride to Carlmont High School.
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