An enrollment consultant is projecting that the Ravenswood City School District will lose 27 percent of its 2,400 students over the next five years, a decline that is far sharper than the district itself has predicted.
The K-8 East Palo Alto district has already the region's "most severe" enrollment decline, according to the San Mateo-based Enrollment Projection Consultants, and is facing challenging years ahead. While skyrocketing housing costs and falling birth rates are the main culprits of enrollment decreases in school districts throughout Silicon Valley, the opening of a new charter school, Kipp Valiant Community Prep, and the private Primary School in East Palo Alto compounded those losses for Ravenswood.
The picture that Enrollment Projection Consultants paints is "bleak," Partner Tom Williams wrote in his report. He told the school board Thursday evening that in his 33 years of enrollment consulting, the recent declines in local school districts is "something I've never seen before."
He estimates Ravenswood will lose 583 students by 2021. In sharp contrast, the district had estimated in January that it would lose 136 students over the next three years.
While virtually all districts in the region are losing students, Ravenswood's 27 percent enrollment decline is "far greater" than what his organization is forecasting for the other 23 districts they work with in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. The decrease will happen in both elementary and middle school grade levels and in every elementary attendance area of the district, according to Williams' report.
In five years, Ravenswood will be down to just 1,747 students, Williams estimated -- a sharp contrast to the 3,547 students enrolled in 2012. Even without charter schools, Ravenswood's regular enrollment fell by 1,161, or 33 percent, from 2012 to 2018 — including a loss of 307 students in just the last year.
In the last year, Ravenswood's regular enrollment, not counting the charters, dropped by 11 percent, according to the report. The report provides the rates for nearby districts as points of comparison: Redwood City School District declined by 3 percent, Menlo Park City School District by 1 percent, Las Lomitas Elementary School District by 6 percent and Portola Valley Elementary School District by 6 percent.
Ravenswood's kindergarten enrollment took a major hit in the 2017-18 school year, when Kipp opened and The Primary School added its first kindergarten class. The combined effect was that Ravenswood's kindergarten enrollment dropped below 400 and then 300 students to about 200 students in the last two years. Kipp, which opened with kindergarten, first and sixth grades, also caused a much larger net loss in the number of students graduating from fifth to sixth grade, the report states.
The low kindergarten enrollment will continue, Williams said Thursday, estimating that there will be no kindergarten class significantly more than 200 students in the next five years.
Most Kipp students live within the district and all Primary School students do, so "the majority of both of those school's students probably otherwise would have been enrolled in the district's regular schools," Williams wrote. These trends are expected to continue until Kipp and The Primary School are fully enrolled.
The report also underscores the region's housing crisis. East Palo Alto families are leaving the area due to unaffordability and "further decline will occur if a larger-than-projected portion of the students, in net, who are in temporary housing or are living in vehicles need to leave the district before 2023," Williams wrote.
There are some local housing developments on the horizon that could help stabilize Ravenswood's enrollment, but the number of units or potential students that could be generated remains unclear.
Williams highlighted three positive findings in his report. Ravenswood saw small rebounds this year in students who live in what's defined as "relatively modest" single-family detached homes. The birth counts in the San Mateo County portion of the 94303 ZIP code also went up rather than declined in 2018. Lastly, a large number of potential units in below-market-rate developments in the area could help bring more students to the district and also provide stable housing for students who live in temporary housing or are sleeping in cars or RVs, Williams wrote.
The school board did not discuss the enrollment study extensively. Trustee Marielena Gaona-Mendoza said it is now their and the interim superintendent's responsibility to "brainstorm ... how we attract more students to come here."
Trustee Sharifa Wilson floated one suggestion: "challenging" the Voluntary Transfer Program, or Tinsley program, which allows East Palo Alto students to enroll in neighborhood districts through a lottery.
"Are these students better off staying in those schools or coming back to the district?" she asked. "As we're looking at projections we need to push back on that a little."