Grand jury critiques district

The high school district serving students between Belmont and Woodside violated its open-enrollment policies when it allowed nearly 2,300 students to matriculate at Carlmont High School last fall — in excessof the school’s 2,100-student capacity — according to the San Mateo County civil grand jury.

Rather than redistribute the additional students to other high schools in the Sequoia High School District, some of which are under capacity, the district spent $350,000 to hire three new teachers and one new administrator to handle the overload at the Belmont campus, according to a report from the grand jury released Wednesday.

“Everyone, including the principal, feels that Carlmont is overbooked,” district Superintendent Pat Gemma said.

Carlmont’s reputation as a good school, coupled with its proximity to San Carlos’ booming population of families with kids, has contributed to the school’s popularity, said Emily Sarver, president of the Carlmont Parent Teacher Student Association.

“Parents want their child to go to a local high school, and it’s closer than Sequoia High School,” Sarver said. “Kids want to go to the same school as their friends from middle school.”

Through open enrollment, the Sequoia High School District allows students to attend any of its four schools. In 2007-08, 200 to 250 students enrolled from outside Carlmont’s boundaries, which encompass San Carlos and Belmont.

While district leaders say they do not regret their decision to let Carlmont fill up, they are taking steps to bring the high school’s population down to 2,100 within a few years.

“I disagree that we’re not following our policy,” trustee Olivia Martinez said. “Carlmont is handling the number of students just fine.”

A new school-bond measure on the February 2008 ballot would raise money for more classroom space at Carlmont and a new charter high school in East Palo Alto, where many of Carlmont’s students live, according to Martinez.

In addition, other high schools — particularly Sequoia High School — are promoting their programs in order to draw the interest of potential students. Next year, Carlmont will only let in 80 students from outside the school’s boundaries.

“That way, in two to three years the school will be down to its established capacity,” Gemma said.

The grand jury recommended that the district re-examine its open-enrollment practices and make sure its policies are followed. However, such recommendations are not enforced, according to grand jury foreman Gerald Yaffee.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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