Berkeley public elementary schools are bursting at the seams and there is no quick fix for the problem.
Enrollment in the 9,000-plus Berkeley Unified School District is expected to grow by 464 students over the next 10 years, and district officials are scrambling to find short-term as well as more permanent solutions to address the space crunch.
In May, the Berkeley Board of Education gave the district the green light to review classroom capacities and attendance zones to address overcrowded K-5 facilities.
Although the district’s student assignment plan has had minor adjustments and the number of schools has changed since the board approved the three elementary school zones—north, central and south—in 1994, their geographic boundaries have remained the same.
After a quick briefing on the issue in August, district Director of Facilities Lew Jones bought some recommendations back to the board at its regular meeting Sept. 24.
Jones said the district had hired Davis Demographics & Planning, Inc. (DDP), to help with the planning of future shifts in student population.
This is the first time the district has hired an outside entity to study its enrollment numbers, Jones said.
DDP factored current and historical student data with demographic data and planned residential development to calculate a 10-year student population projection.
Data reported to the state by Berkeley Unified shows the district had 9,370 students in 2000-2001, which declined to 8,843 students by the 2003-2004 school year. The DDP study shows that over the next five years BUSD’s enrollment stabilized at around the 9,000-student mark with a low of 8,904 in 2004-2005 and a high of 9,088 in 2006-2007. In 2008-2009—the last year the DDP study took into account—it was 8,988.
The DDP report predicts that most of the growth projected to take place over the next decade will be in the elementary grades, growing from 3,686 to 4,033 students—an increase of 347 students.
In the middle schools, the numbers will rise from 1,799 to 1,894, an increase of 95 students.
At the high schools, student population is expected to fluctuate over the same period, at first declining and then rebounding to current levels as larger classes in the lower grades graduate over the years.
The DDP report attributes the projected growth—especially in K–5—to a jump in kindergarten enrollment over the past two years. Data reported to the state show that the 650 students enrolled in kindergarten in 2007-2008 were the highest since the 1999-2000 school year.
Last year’s kindergarten enrollment—694—is the largest the district had reported since 1993-1994.
Although most districts show a direct correlation between area births and kindergarten enrollment five years later, the report says that it is not the case for Berkeley Unified.
Kindergarten enrollment increased even as the number of babies born between 2001 and 2002 (the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years) declined.
Jones said in a report to the board that a variety of factors might affect student population, including a fluctuating housing market and the number of students attending private schools.
However, the “interplay between private and public schools is more complex than other districts,” he said.
Jones pointed out that under the current zone model, the central and northwest zones would exceed their present capacities.
As a result the district explored the following options to modify the K–5 attendance boundaries:
• The current attendance zones.
• A shift in boundaries so that Berkeley Arts Magnet is in the northwest zone and Malcolm X is in the central zone.
The district is exploring the following options to increase capacity:
• Adding a new school at West Campus.
• Adding a new wing to Jefferson.
• Replacing Washington annex portables with a large building.
• Adding portables to Jefferson.
• Adding portables to Washington annex.
• Adding portables to Berkeley Arts Magnet.
Jones said that district officials did not believe it was necessary or financially feasible to add a new elementary school-based on the current population projections.
While exploring zone modifications, the district considered several factors, including minimizing disruption, busing costs and capital expenses and giving more importance to parental choice and overall flexibility.
The district’s preferred model would keep the existing zone lines intact but convert Berkeley Arts Magnet into a school straddling both the northwest and the central zones. It would also turn Malcolm X into a school shared between the central and southeast zones.
The district is also considering two other models—the current model and one that shifts Malcolm X to the central zone and Arts Magnet to the northwest zone.
If the district sticks to the current model, it would have to add five to six portables to the Jefferson campus and either use the Washington annex portables for the elementary program or add three to four portables at Berkeley Arts Magnet.
In case the district decided to shift Malcolm X to the central zone and Arts Magnet to the northwest zone and reconfigure the boundary lines, either Washington annex would be used for elementary school or three to four portables would be added to Jefferson or Arts Magnet. The portables at Washington are currently being used for Berkeley High classes.
Community members will be able to comment about the zone changes at three public meetings over the next couple of weeks.
• Malcolm X Auditorium, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8.
• Jefferson Auditorium, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13.
Public comments can be sent to the Board of Education at firstname.lastname@example.org or BUSD Board of Education, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94704.
Documents on zone changes are available at www.berkeley.k12.ca.us.