K-8 Overcrowding: 2-Schools on 1 Campus? Buses?

Building a new school, or some kind of facility to ease classroom overcrowding, has become the top priority of the K-8 San Carlos School District. That’s according to Superintendent Craig Baker.

Baker gave an update on enrollment to a morning meeting of the joint city/school committee, known as 2+2, made up of two City Council members and two School Board trustees.

This is the second time in three months the 2+2 has taken up the subject of exploring the possibility of a new school.  (The name is a little misleading as more officials attend than implied…list below)

Baker noted the four elementary schools were each built to house 100 fewer students, so even if the extra children were moved out, the district would, “have enough for a whole extra school, not taking into account the new incoming kids in the future.” (Enrollment numbers: Brittan Acres 482, Arundel 450, Heather 430 and White Oaks 415)

Where to build a school – which takes an estimated five years to complete once the decision is made – is the (multi) million dollar question facing the district. “We’re struggling with ideas,” said Baker, adding there are no simple solutions.

While discussions about a new school are still preliminary, Baker shared one idea the District is considering: adding an elementary school building on the grounds of Central Middle School (enrollment 630), adding, “it’s a lot cheaper to build on land we already own.”

Another possibility is adding another school at Heather, although the idea lacks support for several reasons. First, the campus is up in the hills and not anywhere near downtown or east San Carlos, where need for a new school is highest. Second, Heather’s fields are often used by the community for sports.

Tierra Linda, which has the most space of any of the campuses, is another possibility although it has the most serious drawbacks. Not only is it at the border of Belmont (which makes it harder to add an extra route in), it also has the worst traffic. San Carlos Ave. is the busy main artery; a single entrance leads to the middle school with 600 students; 1,000 counting Charter Learning Center and the Montessori school there.

“No matter where we build a school, we need to improve traffic access,” Baker said.

Given the traffic challenge and increasing enrollment numbers, Mayor Andy Klein said, “I think we need to go back to a busing system,” adding that while the busing concept failed in the past, doesn’t mean it’s doomed to fail again in the future.

Assistant City Manager Brian Moura noted several East Bay communities have successfully launched paid-busing systems.

SB trustee Seth Rosenblatt said he believed the community of San Carlos, which once enjoyed the free Scoot shuttle service, would need to be educated on any plan involving pay-to-ride buses.

While the School District is in charge of making a decision about a new school, including the best way to configure it, City Manager Jeff Maltbie said the city is interested in maintaining access to school fields used by the community.

SB trustee Beth Hunkapiller expressed her wish for the City’s help and input going forward.  “It’s a tough time to be building a school,” she said, adding, “We want a long term solution, not just dropping portables on existing campuses.”

As for the idea of enlarging any of the schools to achieve economies of scale, the district and the school board are less than enthusiastic.  SB trustee Seth Rosenblatt said bigger schools wouldn’t solve the traffic problem and the district “would still need the same amount of teachers.”

Hunkapiller – a former middle school teacher and current Director of California Dept. of Education Charter Schools Division – said the real value in smaller schools is that students are not anonymous. “When you add so many students to a campus, kids feel anonymous, so you need to add support staff to deal with it,” she said.

(Although not quoted, also in attendance at today’s 2+2 meeting: City Council Member Randy Royce; Al Savay, Community Development Director & Acting Dir. of Public Works; Doug Long, Director of Parks and Recreation)

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