Administrators of Anaheim's elementary school districts are pleading with the City Council to slow the city's development pace because schools are almost filled with students.
Representatives of the Anaheim City School District begged the council last week to delay the construction of a 108-unit apartment building downtown because classrooms in the area are full.
Council members replied that they understand the district's concerns but that the city needs more housing. They unanimously approved the apartment complex.
The Anaheim City district, which next fall will have 12 of its 21 schools on a year-round calendar because of overcrowding, is not alone in its concerns. Officials from some of the city's other elementary school districts agree that the fight over any one apartment complex is only a piece of an ongoing dilemma: After a development is completed and the residents move in, will the six districts that have schools in the city have room for the children?
"Any project of any size is going to impact the schools," said Meliton Lopez, Anaheim City district superintendent. "Whether it's 108 units or 300 units, those projects have an impact on our ability (to find classroom space) for the children. My district is filled out to capacity."
But council members say they and the city's planning staff have listened to the districts and have rejected several large developments, partly because of the strain they would have put on the schools.
"We recognize there is a problem, and I think we have shown a willingness to help," Councilman Bob D. Simpson said. "The one thing I would like to see from the districts in return is a master plan of where they would like to build schools."
City records show that 1,556 housing units have been built in Anaheim since January, 1990.
School district enrollment has been growing for at least three years. For example, Anaheim City district enrollment has risen 18% in that span. Magnolia School District has seen its enrollment increase by 3% in just five months.
J. Arch Haskins, Magnolia's superintendent, agreed with Lopez that high-density apartments are a big concern. The eight-school elementary district recently put two schools on year-round calendars because of overcrowding and may add a third next fall.
"Those apartments bring in so many children that we are not capable of handling them," Haskins said.
According to state law, housing developers must pay $1.62 per square foot to the affected districts. For example, the builder of a small, 10,000-square-foot apartment complex would pay a fee of $16,200.
But the districts say that such fees do not come close to what is necessary to build a new school. The Anaheim City district recently estimated that it would cost the district $18.2 million to build a 700-student elementary school and says it needs to build five of them.
Some schools are being built in the large new developments in Anaheim Hills, where builders have agreed to establish special tax districts so that new residents can pay for the schools they will require.
But in older neighborhoods where development is more piecemeal, such taxes could only be established if they were approved by two-thirds of the district's voters, an unlikely occurrence, school officials say.