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By Tim Hunt

Pleasanton schools facing the challenge of declining enrollment

Uploaded: Mar 15, 2016

Responding to the commentator who observed that I was out-spoken against a third comprehensive high school. I sure hope I was.
What we have been seeing for about a decade in Pleasanton is a large bubble of students going through the pipeline. To accommodate “the bubble” requires wise planning to design flexible facilities to accommodate the large number without creating facilities that will be empty in a few years. That’s why, when tapping into state money, one of the prior requirements was half portable classrooms so districts were not stuck with empty facilities after students moved through.
Pleasanton, in my memory, has never closed a school and only sold two surplus sites over the years. By contrast, both Livermore (four) and Dublin (one) have closed school sites that could not be used. In the rapidly growing San Ramon Valley district, the challenge for school administrators is that all of the growth—other than neighborhoods turning over—is in the southeast quadrant while the schools with room are located in the north end of the district.
In the 2013-14 school year (the last year the state web site has information listed), the smallest enrollment for Pleasanton was in the first grade, with kindergarten and 2nd grade the next two lowest. Each was 250-300 students below the equivalent classes in high school.
Those trends are worrisome because declining enrollment means declining money. Much of Pleasanton’s enrollment growth in the last decade has come from neighborhoods transitioning (long-time empty nesters selling to younger families with children). Some of that will continue, but it likely will slow down (the city approved and developers built a lot of homes in the 1960s-1990s before residential growth slowed).
It remains to be seen how student enrollment will be affected by the new apartment complexes being built all over town. We will know more in the next couple of years—typically apartments do not attract that many families, but the combination of well-regarded public schools, a great lifestyle and high housing costs may encourage families to choose the rentals.
NOTE TO WRITER: Yes, my wife has taught throughout her career at Amador Valley (we are second generation Amador family—our daughter graduated from there as well). A third high school likely would have had minimal effect on teacher compensation—it e is primarily a capital expenditure. There is certainly an operating cost (utilities, administration and support staff) but that is minor compared to the cost of teachers.