Schools - March 9, 2011

Las Lomitas district has plans for portables, lower class-size

by Renee Batti

New portable classrooms will be situated at both Las Lomitas School district schools this summer to address the unexpectedly high enrollment growth at the elementary school district, the school board has decided.

The board last month approved installing up to eight portable classrooms, at a cost of about $100,000 each. Superintendent Eric Hartwig said the district may start with only four — two at Las Lomitas School (K-3) in Atherton and two at La Entrada School (4-8) in Menlo Park.

Creating new classroom space will allow the district to start easing class size back down to earlier levels by hiring new teachers, Mr. Hartwig said. Since the 2007-08 school year, the district has curtailed teacher hiring, in spite of growing enrollment, because of budgetary concerns. As a result, class size has grown from two to three children per classroom at Las Lomitas, and about four students per classroom at La Entrada, he said.

"It saved us a lot of money to have higher class sizes," he said, adding that it allowed the district to eliminate deficit spending. Now, the district is in a position to hire "in the neighborhood of four to seven new teachers" to reverse the inching-up of class size as enrollment continues to grow, he said.

Projections from a demographic study done a number of years ago underestimated the rate of student growth in the district. The study also predicted that enrollment growth would level off by about 2015, and possibly decline after that.

A more recent study refutes those projections, however. By 2016, there will be 148 more students than the earlier study predicted, and by 2017, that figure is expected to grow to 172, according to the recent study.

Current district enrollment is 1,339, with 642 at Las Lomitas and 697 at La Entrada, according to district records.

Mr. Hartwig said that projections for the next school year show a jump in enrollment of 32 children (to 674) at Las Lomitas, and 15 students (to 712) at La Entrada.

At its February meeting, the school board also hired the architectural firm Sugimura Finney Architects to design and engineer the specifications needed for placing the portable classrooms on the two campuses.

The cost for the architectural service, which Mr. Hartwig estimated at $30,000, is in addition to the $100,000 cost per portable classroom approved by the board that night.


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