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Enrollment Projections Bring Frustration, Ideas

The PAUSD Board poured over enrollment projections at a special meeting on Tuesday.

board members spent hours at a special meeting on Tuesday afternoon dissecting projected enrollment figures for the next five to ten years.

The district decided to use DecisionInsite for the first time to make the projections, which took into account migration and new residential developments. Demographer Dean Waldfogel presented his findings, via phone and Skype. 

The projected annual enrollment change is two to three percent, similar to past history. But according to Waldfogel, PAUSD has unusual year-to-year variability that makes predicting future enrollment rates difficult. Kindergarten enrollment in previous years, for example, has fluctuated tremendously.

"It is very atypical. In most other districts of your size, a 10 percent variance from one year to the next is pretty big. So here, you're talking 44 to 66 (students), almost 150 percent," he said, referring to the increase in a kindergarten study block.

A 105 percent increase in the number of students from fourth to fifth grade over the past three years is also unusual, he said. However, district-wide projections have remained relatively stable.

"That doesn't really help us with our planning on where to put the next classroom," said board member Melissa Baten Caswell. 

"It does make your job extremely difficult," Waldfogel admitted. He pointed out that predicting statistics for a large geographic area - such as the state of California - is much easier than for small areas, such as a county or district. 

The projections were based on data since 2008 and did not go back beyond four years, Waldfogel said, because of the difficulty of collecting older data as well as because more data does not make a significant difference.

"We were very fortunate in your case to be able to get good data for four years back," he said.

Several board members were skeptical about trusting the numbers beyond a certain number of years. Board member Barb Mitchell said she had difficulty accepting projections beyond five years, while Baten Caswell worried that even looking beyond one year could be a murky proposition.  

"The conclusion for me is there some work we need to do around long-term planning...that cannot be done by the demographer," said Mitchell, adding that discussions with the city and Stanford would be necessary. City council members who were in attendance agreed that they are ready to work with the district on the issue.  

Everyone was in agreement that middle school enrollment capacity was the most pressing concern. DecisionInsite projects a 24.2 percent growth in middle school over the next five years.

"We are fully at capacity pretty quickly even in the best case scenario," Baten Caswell said.

"Something has to happen at the middle school level," facilities and bonds manager Bob Golton said.

This presents a challenge, since while the number of middle schoolers is increasing, there may not be enough to warrant a fourth middle school. According to superintendent Kevin Skelly, there are not enough funds for a new middle school anyway, although there is money to expand elementary school capacity. Some board members suggested making some of the elementary schools K-6 to accommodate the overflow.

The board concluded by agreeing to continue with study sessions and to work with the city to better predict enrollment. 

"We're not going to peg our planning to any particular number," said board member Barbara Klausner. "We need to be very flexible." 

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