By Linjun Fan
After five years of encouraging families outside the city to transfer their children to Albany schools, the district is facing an overcrowding problem that may force it to shut its doors to non-residents.
The Albany Unified School District has nearly 150 more students enrolled this year than last year and can barely house the 3,794 students in its three elementary, one middle and one high school. Cornell Elementary has a portable classroom to accommodate a boom in first-graders. At Ocean View Elementary School, students are divided into three groups that eat lunch at different times to avoid crowding.
While the strong public schools have drawn many homebuyers to Albany in recent years, district officials also took students living outside the city because they brought state money to help boost a tight budget. For each new student, the district gets $5,544 in extra state funding per academic year. As a result, more than 600 students from neighboring cities are studying in Albany’s schools, or nearly one-fifth of the total student population.
Forty-two new non-resident students enrolled this year, but more than 100 applicants were turned down.
“I told the parents that our schools were full. But we got about 150 applicants even though I sounded very discouraging,” said Linda Baker, student data system manager, who keeps a drawer containing dozens of files of parents waiting to transfer their kids to Albany.
The top-ranked district, which has scored 10 out of 10 in the state Academic Performance Index for the past three years, has long drawn families looking for a place to settle.
“The real estate agents told me that most people that buy into Albany have school-age children, and they buy into Albany because of its school district,” said Superintendent William Wong, adding that he thinks the trend will slow down.“I think for the coming year, now the housing mortgage problem is so huge, that less and less people are able to purchase homes here.”
Many parents in neighboring cities also want to get their kids transferred to Albany schools.
“I prefer to send my daughter to study in Albany schools even though I am living in Berkeley now,” said John Qiu, who moved out of Albany a few years ago. His younger daughter is in kindergarten at Cornell, but Qiu doesn’t know if there will be space for her to return for first grade.
Principal Terry Georgeson of Ocean View Elementary is keeping her fingers crossed that the enrollment will taper off, and her science teacher can keep a room of her own.
“We will have to take the room for another classroom if we have more students coming in next semester,” Georgeson said.