LASD shrinks despite concerns over growth

District officials say 10th site plans still needed for MV housing

For years, Los Altos School District officials have been aggressively searching for money and land to build a new school in Mountain View, calling it an expensive but necessary strategy for addressing a burst of enrollment growth in the San Antonio region of the city.

But the growth projected in Mountain View is likely to be entirely offset by a larger trend showing that the district's enrollment is shrinking. Demographic data presented to the school board Monday night shows that district enrollment shrank by more than 250 students since its peak in the 2014-15 school year, and registration for the upcoming school year shows no sign of an upswing.

The only exception, according to the report, is Bullis Charter School, which has turned away a record number of families due to space constraints and plans to increase enrollment by more than 30 percent in the coming years.

The vast majority of anticipated housing growth in the district -- and with it, more school-age residents -- stems from projects in the San Antonio area that are expected to generate up to 342 students, according to demographer Shelly Lapkoff. But that's the high end projection, she said, with the "middle" estimate closer to 192 students.

Even then, the numbers in the report may still be padded. The projections take into account a major housing development along California Street near San Antonio Road, created by a mixed-use development proposed by Greystar that includes 641 housing units. The district is seeking to buy that property from the developer -- even if it means forcing a sale through eminent domain -- for a new school campus, which would eliminate the housing and its new students.

The report took a liberal approach to estimating enrollment growth from redevelopment of the eastern side of the San Antonio Shopping Center, owned by Maryland-based Federal Realty. The developer, who put the project on hold in 2016, originally proposed adding between 1,840 and 2,650 residential units. The demographic report estimates 538 new students would be generated by the project based on the assumption that all 2,650 units would be built.

Lapkoff cautioned board members that it's difficult to predict enrollment decades in the future, and that housing growth in the Mountain View portions of Los Altos School District present a big unknown.

"There will no doubt be new housing coming down the pike," Lapkoff said. "That is not in our forecast."

Trustees had little discussion about the demographic update -- one of many presented to the board in recent years -- with board member Sangeeth Peruri saying his inclination is to "disregard" short-term decreases in enrollment, calling it "irrelevant" in the face of long-term facilities needs not addressed in the report. He argued that the district's track record shows planning based on enrollment declines had led to horrible decisions, like closing schools and selling off district-owned land, and that he wanted to avoid making the same mistake again.

"If we're doing planning on a 30-year cycle, you're probably better off not looking at the short term," he said.

At the same time, however, Peruri acknowledged that the enrollment decline was curious, given the lengthy economic growth in the region, which he believed should coincide with rising birth rates.

Board members are unlikely to change course on plans to buy land for a new school north of El Camino Real based on the report. The number of students in the San Antonio region climbed to 689 in 2017 and could break 1,000 due to future housing growth, yet the area does not have a dedicated school. Instead, the neighborhood is carved into three attendance areas split between Covington, Almond and Santa Rita elementary schools.

The district's leadership also argued, when they pitched the Measure N bond to voters in 2014, that schools are already too crowded even with stable enrollment, and that the district prides itself on a model of small school campuses. When the district had similar enrollment in the 1970s, it had 12 schools instead of the nine it has today.

Board president Vladimir Ivanovic told the Voice in an email that the district needs to plan ahead, particularly for the Federal Realty project, which on its own could generate enough students to fill one and a half schools. He said the district is making a financially sound move by trying to secure land and a new school site before a spate of enrollment just beyond the horizon.

"Costs of both land and building are not going to go down, so it is fiscally prudent to do what we can now rather than later to deal with a scenario that is likely to happen," Ivanovic said.

A bigger Bullis?

Bullis Charter School appears to be having the opposite problem, with too many students clamoring to get in. An agreement brokered between the charter school and the school district limits charter school growth through June 2019, but demand to get into the school is reaching staggering new heights.

A record-breaking 1,300 families applied for fall 2018 registration for the charter school, meaning that more than 12 children had to be turned away for every child accepted through the lottery, according to Bullis Charter School board chair John Phelps.

Lapkoff told board members that she received a letter from Bullis Charter School officials stating they intend to increase enrollment by 300 students starting in fall 2019, and that the district could expect a gradual increase of Bullis enrollment from the current 829 students today to 1,232 students in 2025.

The letter comes amid ongoing negotiations between the charter school and the Los Altos School District on a new multi-year facilities use agreement, and it remains unclear how much Bullis will be allowed to grow under the new terms. The prior agreement, which trustees voted on in 2014, allowed Bullis to grow from 711 students in 2014-15 to 900 students in 2018-19.

Phelps told the Voice that he can't comment on the ongoing negotiations, but that it's been "painful" to turn away so many children due to the limited space provided by the district.

"It's very disheartening to turn away literally hundreds of families every year because of lack of facilities," he said. "Our intention is to work constructively with LASD to look at and explore possibilities for accepting more students after the five-year agreement expires in 2019."

Allowing that kind of growth could throw a wrench into future plans for the 10th school site in Mountain View. A new Site Advisory Task Force is weighing whether to put the charter school or a neighborhood school on an 8.6-acre site north of the San Antonio Shopping Center, and the built-in assumptions are that the charter school -- if built in Mountain View -- would have 900 students. Bullis parents, for the most part, have told board members they would not want the charter school relocated to Mountain View.

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31 people like this
Posted by Declining Enrollment
a resident of another community
on May 22, 2018 at 2:14 pm

Enrollment is declining and will continue to decline. Birth rates are low and very few young families can afford to buy a house in LASD or event rent for that matter. The new construction around San Antonio isn't going to change that.

37 people like this
Posted by Merging Districts
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 22, 2018 at 2:23 pm

Merging Districts is a registered user.

Not exactly a perfect fit, but possibly we need to consider a merger of LASD and MVWSD. I can see political opposition on both sides.

13 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on May 22, 2018 at 3:27 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

If they buy the Old Mill/Safeway plot along California Ave at San Antonio Rd, it should NOT use it for a new grade school. It could be considered for the subsidized teacher housing they presently want to build at the Cooper Park site. The San Antonio Rd site is suitable for adult housing, but NOT for a grade school. Overcrowding and traffic makes it too dangerous for kids to get to and from. As above poster "Merging Districts" pointed out above, this would be a much easier if MVWSD and LASD chose to merge because the school is for LASD and the housing is for MVWSD. Still, I can't see the LA wanting to merge with MVW unless they had a really urgent need --- such as open space to build schools.

8 people like this
Posted by Publicly funded private school
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 22, 2018 at 3:49 pm

Sit back and watch the community react to bullis growth. Without community-elected public trustees, this is the outcome, it's what a private school does when they don't have to answer to taxpayers, it's what we get when we give an unaccountable private school public money and facilities. They can make demands on the community but they're isolated from the consequences of their policies. The bullis board is self-appointed, not elected by LASD community it is supposed to serve, there's no way for the taxpayers of the community to replace the bullis board when they do dumb things that cause community strife. Compounding the problem, bullis answers only to a county board also unaccountable to our community. Then bullis whines about being ostracized but their never-ending abuse of community goodwill is their basic problem. Bulis growth is elective, and if they grow, they will create still more facilities problems. Grab your popcorn folks.

8 people like this
Posted by You're joking
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 22, 2018 at 3:59 pm

After repeatedly suing Los Altos school district for a new school BCS parents now say they don't want a brand new school if it's three blocks on the other side of El Camino Real? This is way past ridiculous now

20 people like this
Posted by Public Schools
a resident of another community
on May 22, 2018 at 4:03 pm

Unlike a private school, Bullis Charter school, like all charter schools, is open to the entire student population living within LASD. The LASD board and administration are not really subject to any qualifications at all as to their knowledge about education. I'm sure they are well meaning, but many feel that they are not really doing the best job possible. They have an easy time of it because 92% of the district are some of the easiest to educate in the county. That's what makes them complacent and creates room for competition such as a charter school brings. The cost per student that LASD transfers to the charter school is about 60% as much as LASD spends across the board from public funds.

The charter school is not asking for special facilities. For 15 years they have
been 100% housed in portable buildings. The district continues to live in the past and ignore the way so many students are utilizing the charter school. Right now it's like the charter school serves the equivalent of 2 of the LASD average size schools. Out of the 7 elementary schools, 3 are well below the average size. The enrollment is dropping off much more at these 3 schools than it is on average in the district. Denial is causing the board to sanction a waste of public funds by trying to keep all 7 open while BCS effectively creates 2 additional schools. So it goes. And BCS is growing to where it will effectively be 3 additional schools worth of students.

13 people like this
Posted by Cost of school
a resident of another community
on May 22, 2018 at 4:09 pm

I don't think BCS is turning down the school in NEC. I hear them saying they don't NEED the extra cost of that location. I gather they feel for the local kids in that area who are denied a small neighborhood school because LASD is shilly shallying. Of course, the neighborhood school would only serve 400-500 students, not 900 as LASD is angling to construct. So if LASD wants to avoid RULING OUT a local neighborhood school for the San Antonio area, it could use the site for BCS, but it would only
be 1 of 2 sites needed to house the charter school. Then when some future board realizes they are being cruel to the San Antonio area, they can stop using the San Antonio kids as padding to keep so many different LASD schools open in Los Altos.

15 people like this
Posted by So much popcorn
a resident of Shoreline West
on May 22, 2018 at 4:10 pm

yes, start making popcorn

so. much. popcorn.

yummy Orville Bullisbacker popcorn

3 people like this
Posted by @William Hitchens
a resident of another community
on May 22, 2018 at 4:13 pm

LASD has its own eyes on teacher housing. When the move the charter school from two blocks south of El Camino Real to the Greystar site, their idea is to replace the charter school buildings with Teacher Housing for LASD, not for MVWSD. That's why they needed the Mountain VIew council help to buy that new land even though it's very near where the Charter school has been for 15 years.

33 people like this
Posted by LASD needs to put an end to this
a resident of another community
on May 22, 2018 at 4:26 pm

It's not hard to see where this is going. If LASD follows through on their not-so-secret plan to site BCS at a new campus in Mtn View, BCS will just keep growing and growing until they have 25% of the students in the district and the courts force LASD to start handing entire campuses over to BCS.

LASD needs to do what they should have done years ago. Rip off the band-aid and move on. Move BCS to Covington. Move 6th grade to middle school. Spend the Measure N bond funds to improve existing schools.

6 people like this
Posted by Responsible leaders in MV
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on May 22, 2018 at 4:32 pm

MV city council behaved responsibly when new high density housing created a burden on the LA school district. They approved the transferrable development credits. Charter growth will impact the rest of the community but BCS leaders don't seem to care. I agree they act more like a private firm then a public agency

8 people like this
Posted by Numbers
a resident of another community
on May 22, 2018 at 5:23 pm

Mountain View leaders were duped, because LASD obviously doesn't expect much growth from the San Antonio area of Mountain View. Otherwise, they would follow through on opening a school for that area. The are originally had a school in Los Altos but LASD closed it and sold it off 40 years ago. Since that time, the kids on the Palo Alto side of San Antonio have continued to attend Santa Rita. There's still plenty of room at Santa Rita. But the kids on the other side of San Antonio have not had a neighborhood school for the entire 40 years. They were always present. The Old Mill condos have been there since before the old Portola Elementary school closed. They got sent to Almond at the time. The Crossings was built in the early 1990's, and that was foreseeable. They also initially attended Almond. Almond is quite a ways from that housing.

So this is a hogwash about it being a new thing for there to be housing in that area. LASD blew it when they closed the Portola Elementary school. Isn't it time to once again open an elementary school to serve this neighborhood? The housing here has been shortchanged for decades, to benefit Los Altos.

12 people like this
Posted by Movie
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 22, 2018 at 5:37 pm

The only concern LASD has is the Bullis problem. The wolves in sheeps clothing tricked everyone into passing Measure N to accommodate “enrollment growth”. Obviously the data shows enrollment decline. Measure N was really code for buying any 10th site to house BCS. No plans to spend money on fixing the district schools. The Old Mill 10th site will be used to house BCS if the 6 wolves and the Baier can win in court. LASD must be scratching their heads at the moment with BCS announcing they can and will grow to 1200 and beyond. Kinda hard to stuff 1200 plus staff onto that site, after winning in court spending our tax dollars, that is. This movie staring LASD is more entertaining than the BCS movie. Sorry.

30 people like this
Posted by Well, this is embarassing
a resident of another community
on May 22, 2018 at 6:35 pm

Much like George Costanza in Seinfeld season 5 episode 21 (The Hamptons), it appears that LASD student enrollment has experienced significant shrinkage.

9 people like this
Posted by 2B-LAHS parent
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 23, 2018 at 3:22 am

2B-LAHS parent is a registered user.

@Merging Districts

"Not exactly a perfect fit, but possibly we need to consider a merger of LASD and MVWSD. I can see political opposition on both sides. "

Well, I would certainly want to consider this idea, but I would prefer to first merge the MVWSD with the MVLAHSD and when that is done, merge in the LASD.

I think Mountain View and Los Altos schools have quite a bit in common and would also compliment each other where we are different.

I would want a much larger school Board. 5 Board members don't cut it.
I would want 7 or even 9.

4 people like this
Posted by cherry pickers
a resident of The Crossings
on May 23, 2018 at 10:33 am

I love amateur theories about future growth and cherry picking the data. the LA district has grown by more than 2 thousand students in the past 20 years but expert Voice readers have a crystal ball about the next five years? Enrollment is projected to be mostly flat for the next number of years. I hope the prognosticators are using their superpowers to predict the stock and cryptocurrencies market too! I'm sure they have super reasons for their theories, let's hear them all, including your stock picks - ha! :-)

17 people like this
Posted by Growth Facts
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2018 at 1:44 pm

It's completely wrong to say that LASD has grown by 2000 students in 20 years.
In 2000 it was 3931. Next year it is forecast to be 4100. So that's just about
no growth in LASD.

But it gets worse. Starting in 1974 LASD began a plan to consolidate schools
due to declining enrollment. That resulted in the 16 acre Covington Jr High school
campus being closed and held empty for over 20 years. In 2000 the decided to
renovate and convert it to a 7th elementary school. (For 5 years they also closed Gardner Bullis which was a smaller school site and took its enrollment plus some other areas to open Covington, but in 2005 despite little growth, they opened Gardner Bullis again.) So while we may have in fact NO GROWTH in 20 years, we
do have an added (large) school site which has increased the capacity expecting some growth but there was none.

Simple numbers, the district has said each school should handle up to 600 students. That's 5400 students, but this year just 4400 enrolled, and next year is dropping.
Furthermore, the district has stated it wants to go to a middle school model, and locate up to 1000 students at each middle school. So this ups the capacity to 6200 students.

So, the accurate thing to say would be that many question the idea that the district's existing reserve capacity of 2000 students is enough for now.
It's not saying that there will be flat enrollment. The ones with the biased crystal ball are those saying the enrollment will zoom past 6200 and we must take action now.

15 people like this
Posted by Growth Facts
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2018 at 1:52 pm

The above estimated capacity of current LASD schools at 6200 comes from LASD, and they have been open about the details. However, they don't sum it up as such. But there is no liberty taken to reach the calculation of total capacity. That's straight LASD data, merely added.

However, one can see room for still more growth on existing land. The vulnerable site is Covington who have grown used to having 16 acres for 500 students. Clearly, that much land could serve another 800 students. Some of the neighbors gripe about the traffic as it is, but the reality is that the site is well located centrally with good road service.

So being very conservative, LASD's existing capacity of students is about 7000 without buying new land.

23 people like this
Posted by Los Altos Observer
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2018 at 5:01 pm

LASD's decline in enrollment directly correlates to the # of in-district students added to Bullis Charter School. BCS is a public school serving LASD residents. It's time for the school district to accept this fact, redraw attendance boundaries and provide all public school students adequate facilities as required by CA law. Purchasing land is not necessary and is not how I want the district to spend our $150 million in bond money!

4 people like this
Posted by cherry pickers
a resident of The Crossings
on May 23, 2018 at 6:35 pm

Thank you @Growth Facts for making my point so perfectly. Charter students are LASD students by definition provided they live in district. Cherry picking the data and terminology is unseemly.

12 people like this
Posted by Growth Facts
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2018 at 9:13 pm

It is LASD which is constantly treating the charter school as non students. Still, even if they did recognize the absorption by BCS of what COULD HAVE BEEN growth in their schools, this is only 800 (in-districe) charter students. Not 2000 since the year 2000. 800 this year. Next year probably 825 in district students at BCS.

So, the point is, LASD is against using any of the EXISTING facilities for BCS. Their capacity in the schools is 6200. Their enrollment as of next year is 4100. So they have room for 2100 more students. Could this have anything to do with the real reason they are against having a new neighborhood school for the San Antonio area? Were they EVER seriously considering this? Because, say that it serves 450 students. Now they have a total of 3650 students spread across their other schools, which they calculate as capable of serving 6200. It kind of makes their over building worse.

21 people like this
Posted by They lie to get more money
a resident of The Crossings
on May 24, 2018 at 12:26 am

Anticipated enrollment growth is one of the standard LIES used by school districts to trick voters into providing more money.

7 people like this
Posted by Welcome newcomers
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2018 at 10:37 am

There seems to be a lot of naivete among commenters to this article. I welcome new voices, but please take time to do some homework before kicking dirt in people's faces. There are thousands upon thousands of your neighbors involved in this very public and heartfelt issue and they've been working hard on it for more than a decade. Neither twenty nor two hundred partisan polemicists represent the voice of the LASD community, no matter how noisy they get. This is especially true for presumably well-meaning but ill-informed passionate newcomers.

12 people like this
Posted by Growth Facts
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2018 at 2:26 pm

This is a new problem. LASD has started to shrink after mounting a bond measure 4 years ago under the guise of handling enrollment growth. At the same time they have created another new problem about a year ago. They went to the city of Mountain View and said the enrollment growth is so severe that they need their help so that there could be a neighborhood school to serve the San Antonio area. They clearly talked about 600 kids in the area who were currently overcrowding their existing schools. This was a lie. They don't intend to work toward a neighborhood school for these kids.

At this point, it appears that it will be 3 or 4 years before any new school can be built on new land if the district buys it. A lot can happen in that time. However, LASD is trying to build a case now NOT to provide a neighborhood school for this area in four years' time. They have enough kids to make a school work here, and right a wrong of long duration. Deciding exactly what attendance boundaries would be used is something that can wait for at least 3 years. The commitment should be to decide attendance areas down the line, not to rule out using the school for the neighborhood based on speculation about what will tbe the situation in four years.

I don't think it's fair to say that LASD has been trying to create a school for these kids for years. Far from it.

3 people like this
Posted by check your history
a resident of another community
on May 25, 2018 at 9:56 am

1 note to Grwoth facts: measure N was passed in 2014 which means the decision to float a bond measure was based on the enrollment growth data available in early 2014. at that time, enrollment was still trending strongly upward, after 20+ years of growth and ever more crowded campuses and an unhappy charter school sharing a campus, which means the district board was well justified in seeking voter aproval for new facilities bond monies. the fact that enrollment growth plateaud since measure N passed is academic and no evidence of bad faith.

20 people like this
Posted by Actual Facts
a resident of another community
on May 25, 2018 at 9:20 pm


Back in 2012, the demographers forecast a likely enrollment decline.
Their forecasts were for 4 equally likely scenarios,
low growth, medium, medium high and high. For 2018
the numbers they had were 3586, 4241, 4459 and 4727.
Actual enrollment last Fall was 4403, meaning the growth was
actually below Medium High. Only the possible high
scenario was not met. This drop off is not something new! It was

8 people like this
Posted by teacher
a resident of another community
on May 30, 2018 at 7:51 am

Bullis is a private school disguised as a charter school. They need to suck it up and become private and stop using public funds to operate. They seem to conveniently have only the Los Altos and Los Altos Hills kids who can afford to pay the high cost of the school. Move the school to Covington or build their own school in Los Altos Hills where it belongs. I'm so tired of their "pity us we have no space and we need more and blah blah" No, get out and build your own school and become a PRIVATE school.

Mountain View is not LASD. Mountain View is Mountain View and reserved for MOUNTAIN VIEW schools. And excuse me, but what's wrong with Purissima school in the Hills? Not good enough because it's public? These people are delusional and entitled.

3 people like this
Posted by @Teacher
a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2018 at 8:14 pm

Charter Schools are public schools operated by private entities but governed by state law with state funding. They accept all applicants and use a random lottery if they are oversubscribed.

In this case, of the 679 Bullis Charter students, about 190 are residents of Mountain View. I don't know where you get your facts, but they are wrong. Overall Mountain View residents are 27% of LASD's students. In the charter school matches that by having 28% from Mountain View.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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