School district goes back to drawing board
Faced with lukewarm support by residents for a possible parcel tax and new information showing a significantly higher-than-expected enrollment gain in the next few years, Las Lomitas School District officials have gone back to the drawing board to determine how to meet the district's growing population and funding needs.
Although that means the school board is not actively pursuing a parcel tax measure now, it doesn't mean the district has ruled out asking voters to approve such a tax, or a bond measure for new-facilities construction to address the enrollment surge, according to Superintendent Eric Hartwig.
Mr. Hartwig said he hopes to report to the board in June with more information on new enrollment projections, the district's financial picture, and options for tackling looming challenges resulting from those two factors.
Classroom space on the district's two campuses — Las Lomitas (K-3) in Atherton and La Entrada (4-8) in Menlo Park — is growing ever tighter, thanks to an approximately 4 percent increase in enrollment in each of the last four years. Current enrollment is about 1,330 students district-wide.
Because a demographic study done a number of years ago projected a leveling off in enrollment by about 2015, and a possible decline after that, district officials considered adding a few portable buildings on both campuses a viable option for riding out the bubble.
But a new demographic study determined that the pre-2015 projections of the older study were far too low, and the "leveling off" prediction inaccurate. It projected that by 2016, there will be 148 more students than the earlier study predicted.
By 2017, that figure is expected grow to 172, according to the new study.
"We're having more students come in faster than we predicted," Mr. Hartwig said. "We had a wait-and-see attitude before, but we now need to do something ... . The new demographic report put in a higher place in the queue of our concerns the need to have our campuses ready for additional students."
Last summer, the school board voted to explore placing a parcel tax on the ballot to address the district's mounting budgetary problems, hoping voters would support a healthy boost to district property owners' current $311 annual tax. With the more conservative enrollment-growth projections in place at that time, the board was hoping a tax increase would help restore some of the programs and positions that took a hit when the district found itself with a $1.5 million shortfall last year.
But a survey last fall of 309 district voters found that far fewer than the required two-thirds of voters were likely to support a tax increase on the scale of what district officials determined would be needed: between $300 and $420.