News

PUSD's enrollment quandary

Officials exploring options to address rising student population on north side

School is back in session in PUSD, including for students at Valley View Elementary. While all of the district's elementary schools are experiencing overflow, the numbers are especially high at Donlon and Fairlands elementaries on the north side. (Photo courtesy of PUSD)

Housing, new developments and a rising population are forefront issues on the minds of many in Pleasanton, particularly officials charged with addressing those topics. Lauded by some as a sign of the city's desirability, the effects of a burgeoning population are nevertheless felt in all arenas, from daily commutes to water availability.

And significantly, current and future growth impacts schools.

For the Pleasanton Unified School District, this impact is especially felt in the northern part of the city, where data projections show enrollment trends to be on the rise.

According to demographers, northern Pleasanton is expected to see a peak enrollment of almost 2,900 students in 2023, an increase of about 460 students from this past fall. Southern schools, on the other hand, are "stable or decreasing."

The schools especially impacted include Donlon Elementary, situated within the Val Vista neighborhood, Fairlands Elementary, just past the intersection of Santa Rita Road and West Las Positas Boulevard, and Hart Middle School, located in the Hacienda Business Park. As of Aug. 7, 103 Donlon resident students were overflowed to another campus. Fairlands saw an overflow of 67 students and 26 Hart students were moved to Harvest Park.

Superintendent David Haglund, however, hastens to add that it's not a matter of overcrowded classrooms. The district is mandated by the state and its contract with the teachers' union to maintain certain student-teacher ratios -- 24:1 for students in TK-3; 33:1 in fourth and fifth grades; 34:1 at the middle school level and 37:1 in high school.

"This is not an issue of overcrowding because the contract that we have with the teachers' association limits class sizes," Haglund said. "We don't have the option of putting additional students in a classroom at a school, if space does not exist."

When over-enrollment occurs at a site, students are moved to another school. All schools in the district are experiencing overflow right now, although the overflow varies grade-wise. An elementary school might be seeing an overload of third-graders but have space in first-grade classes, leading to a sort of student shuffle among the different campuses.

Unfortunately, Haglund said, this might result in students from the same family going to different schools, disrupting the ideal goal of sending students to their neighborhood schools. So the district sees excessive overflow as only a temporary solution -- as is the use of "portable buildings" used to fill in as classrooms.

"Portable buildings are meant to be temporary housing, they're not designed for permanent replacements of buildings," Haglund said. "In many cases in many school districts, you put a portable on a campus and it just has a tendency to stay."

School and district officials agree, then, that a long-term solution needs to be found soon -- for the future of PUSD, its students and all Pleasanton residents, particularly those affected by congested traffic patterns.

After months of board workshops, demographics reports, community input meetings and surveys -- all wrapped up in discussions on the Facilities Master Plan and use of the $270 million Measure I1 bond money -- the district has settled on four distinct options.

The board recently approved a $47,000 contract with Aedis Architects, a firm that will be putting together conceptual designs and cost estimates of the various proposed options.

Nothing has been decided yet, and the final choice could be a completely different solution, or a combination of these options, PUSD staff say.

But the currently identified possibilities under PUSD consideration are as follows:

1. Adjusting school boundaries

This option looks to change enrollment boundaries, solving the over-capacity issue by redirecting students from northern campuses to less-populous schools in the south side of town.

One of the main attractions of this option is the relatively low price-tag -- costs tied to traffic studies and other logistics rather than in new facilities construction. However, board trustees and parents alike criticized the possibility as a short-term answer, and worried that boundary adjustments could change the neighborhood character of PUSD.

"Boundary changes are a pretty temporary, Band-Aid type of fix," board vice president Valerie Arkin said at a special workshop in April.

"We pride ourselves in this district of kids going to their neighborhood school," she added later.

At the May community input meetings, one person voiced the opinion that the change would be a "tough transition for students and families with multiple kids at different schools," according to data compiled by the district, a sentiment echoed by many others.

Someone else noted that the "school board would have to be brave," perhaps anticipating parent discontent with the potential adjustments.

The demographers responsible for analyzing enrollment data also advised against changing boundaries as a solution, pointing to the significant growth disparities on the horizon between north and south Pleasanton.

2. Building a new elementary school

A new elementary school would require significantly more construction, and comes with a whole host of logistical issues, not the least of which being the question of where to place a new campus. However, it also happens to be one of the items listed on the Measure I1 bond that voters approved in 2016 -- a fact trustees have brought up at recent school board meetings.

"The community trusted us with their vote, and we need to do what the bond list says," Arkin said at a March meeting focusing on the district's Facilities Master Plan.

Funding aside, a big part of the logistical puzzle in this case revolves around where a new campus would be constructed, balancing available district land with where a possible school is actually needed. The district-owned Neal property had been previously presented as a potential site -- however, its location in the southeast part of the city makes that difficult, though trading or selling the property for a more northern parcel is also an option.

Parents who participated in the district's outreach efforts saw building a new elementary school as a good long-term possibility that would reduce overcrowding and hopefully traffic.

However, they also viewed this option as one of the more high-cost possibilities, both in terms of infrastructure and land purchase. Several also pointed out the many years of construction going this route would take, and that boundaries would have to be adjusted as well.

3. K-8 school configuration

The idea of converting Hart and/or Donlon into a kindergarten through eighth grade (K-8) was raised earlier this year as a way to handle the increasing capacity issues at both the elementary and middle school levels. This particular solution has since been presented as a way to use the over-enrollment issue as an innovative opportunity.

A K-8 model could offer continuity for students, and allow them to strengthen bonds with teachers, especially at a time of transition commonly known to be "rough," according to staff.

However, questions remain for parents and staff alike. Cost and traffic concerns were raised in the community survey, as did some uneasiness around the wide student age range and safety of younger children. Equity issues were also top on people's minds, for ensuring that all students throughout the district have access to a high-quality education.

Haglund said that he's managed K-8 schools before, and has seen them work well, particularly in terms of allowing for more personalized learning opportunities -- an elementary student seeking to take a higher level math course could stay on the same campus, for example. But he said that the significant rate of community "dissonance" made him start "walking that concept back" at the last board meeting, adding that perhaps it could be considered at a future time.

"If we're trying to meet the personalized learning needs of a student, it gives us greater flexibility," Haglund said. "So from my perspective, it's a great solution. The question is, is that the problem that we're having right now? That we need a new instructional model? Or do we just need additional (space)?"

4. Increasing enrollment capacities

The final possibility under consideration is to increase school enrollment capacities through expanding the existing school sites.

Community members appreciated that this would allow students to remain at their same neighborhood school, and is potentially cheaper than building a whole new campus. However, public survey and meeting respondents also posed concerns that forming larger schools would create other problems, such as losing the sense of community and quality of education, additional staffing needs and traffic congestion.

"You would need to hire more teachers/administrators to help maintain a healthy school environment," one survey respondent wrote. "With too many kids on campus, it would be too easy for kids to become a number. Or worse yet, it may be harder to notice when kids are suffering from emotional problems."

What's next?

At the moment, the district and city of Pleasanton are in the midst of completing a traffic study, just as Aedis Architects is beginning to put together conceptual designs for the various options.

Two community forums are currently set up for Sept. 13 and Nov. 27 -- though the meetings are more general in nature, parents and community members are urged to express their opinions on enrollment and capacity issues at these times, Haglund said.

Leadership teams at the various school sites will also be meeting up throughout the fall, leading up to a board workshop on Dec. 18, according to Haglund.

"And so we'll probably be at a place where we can narrow the options for the board to consider, and if all goes well, we can present a potential solution that the board would first hear in December, and then we would come back in January and approve it," he said. "If we're at that place. If not, we'll continue down the road."

Comments

23 people like this
Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Sep 6, 2018 at 11:10 am

To make room for PUSD resident students, suspend out of PUSD non resident student transfers.

Out of PUSD non Pleasanton resident students transfers are more than 200 students every year, 2016 it was 358 non Pleasanton resident student transfers into PUSD schools.


30 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 6, 2018 at 2:12 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Not mentioned is an option brought up by Mr. Maher a year ago, expanding the Donlon site into two schools (it's 20 acres), TK-2 and a 3-5, with separate administration/office staff. This is the fastest solution and keeps those children in the north near their homes.

I agree with those who indicated changing boundaries is temporary.

Increasing enrollment on current campuses also impinges on play space, library use, multi-purpose rooms, and breaks the commitment of the board to a cap of 700 students (we are already exceeding enrollment at middle and high schools).

A TK-8 is not viable because we don't have enough space at the middle schools--children are already being overflowed from Hart. It also creates a new problem when considering where to send Donlon, Fairlands, and Lydiksen students when they move up to 6th grade--they won't be able to attend Hart and neither Harvest Park nor PMS are reasonably close and, again, are already crowded. K-8 would be a great solution, I think, if the East Side is ever built. It would add the second elementary the demographer predicts we will need, and it won't further impact the current three middle schools.

The saddest part in all of this is the need for a new elementary school was a known problem for quite some time. The fact that Neal was not the best location was also known for just as long. Instead of increasing capacity and starting on a new school or the suggested Donlon solution, Lydiksen was made the priority. Given the time it takes to build a new structure (no matter where), this was the poorest choice available.

I am perplexed with the idea of paying an architect for concept drawings for multiple ideas. Draw Donlon as a dual school and let's get to moving ahead to adding capacity.


7 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Sep 6, 2018 at 8:25 pm

Build a new school and redraw lines, it has to happen.


12 people like this
Posted by FrequentWalkerMiles
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2018 at 8:48 pm

Which expensive study was it that said no new elementary school was needed since enrollment was not projected to increase? Can we get a refund from either the firm, or from district employees who gave the firm incomplete information that resulted in that absurd conclusion? I'm not dream that episode up right?


11 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 6, 2018 at 10:48 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

I believe that might have been a result of counting portables as permanent capacity as directed by staff at the time. For middle and high schools the demographer has continually said no new schools at this level “if current enrollment is acceptable.” Amador is at 2,700 and Hart is overflowing students to Harvest Park. Neither of those facts should be “acceptable.”


14 people like this
Posted by Frank Lynn
a resident of Valley Trails
on Sep 7, 2018 at 9:41 am

FrequentWalkerMiles was right - I remember that demographic study about future stagnant or even declining enrollment - being pushed by the pro-growth members of our city council around the time they were trying to build support for a new housing development in East Pleasanton. If you have kids at overcrowded Donlon (a school built for 600 that now has 825+), you knew how utterly ridiculous that was.

Making Donlon a K-8, or building a new school there is a bad idea. Traffic is already horrible - it takes people upwards of 30-45 minutes to pick up and drop off their kids at peak times. Do we need to clog up the one main arterial road to get there and endanger kids even more? (A child was recently hit riding his bike to Donlon as there is no room for a designated bike lane). K-8 is a horrible idea. I went to a K-8. With a K-8, kids in 6-7-8 miss out on the valuable socialization process of meeting new kids. And with less students - there are no economies of scale in providing top notch athletics, band, and other extracurricular activities.

The recent bond issue was passed because people thought it would be for a new school. Pleasanton is going to grow whether we like it or not (remember how our no-growth charter was rendered illegal by the state?). We can't keep kicking the can down the road. Sure the land the school owns isn't in the best area - it just means school districts will have to be re-drawn. Let's build a school already.


1 person likes this
Posted by Roy
a resident of Livermore
on Sep 7, 2018 at 10:02 am

The problem exist everywhere. The question I have is why is the student teacher ratio the same regardless of teacher experience and subject matter. In most professions as you mature in your career you become more efficient and proficient yet we believe a 1st year teacher and a 10 year tenured teacher are only capable of the same workload.


7 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 7, 2018 at 10:08 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Remember they don’t have to build on Neal. Neal can be sold or swapped for where a school is needed. Less impact on the other elementary schools. Only $35 million was set aside for a new school—likely not enough for land and buildings. Lydiksen is costing $30 million, or at least that’s what was earmarked.


7 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 7, 2018 at 10:13 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Also, the state bond is available for some level of matching funds. The governor has not been releasing those funds and there are a lot of districts ahead of us (about $2 billion of the $9 billion the last I heard), but I haven’t seen that the district intends to use matching funds on the new school, assuming they get them.


10 people like this
Posted by BukLau
a resident of Bordeaux Estates
on Sep 7, 2018 at 1:04 pm

The nice quiet community of the tri-valley has become a townhome city with traffic and stoplights everywhere. Maybe Chinese millionaires shouldn't be able to buy Bay Area homes in cash for investment purposes.


5 people like this
Posted by Ellen
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 7, 2018 at 3:07 pm

The superintendent is right in that the classes aren’t overcrowded but the schools and the neighborhoods certainly are. It’s terrible and dangerous. Neighborhood streets were t built to accommodate double the amount of kids and cars originally planned for :/


3 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Resident
a resident of Foothill High School
on Sep 7, 2018 at 4:22 pm

Yes schools are crowded, but lets not build an entire new school because we had an increase of 460. We can expand existing to manage this increase. Add or Build classrooms, Hire teachers. No need for a whole new school. If it continues than we can build.


12 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 7, 2018 at 4:42 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

PR—“if it continues . . . “—that’s how we ended up with more than 200 children being trotted across town to other schools and the traffic it creates because parents have to get their children to those schools. It’s why we have multiple run down, temporary portables on every campus. It’s why there is insufficient library, playground, and multi-purpose room spaces. You cannot keep crippling current campuses, let alone add to them.


Like this comment
Posted by highdiver
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2018 at 7:10 pm

In the world of never ending problems is where to educate our children. State mandates, poor housing site permits , too many box apartments in areas near transportation affect the entire city. But, making those in the North end of town take the brunt of the problem seems expedient. But its not a good answer. A k-8 school is fraught with other problems. Let's work on making the other schools more involved. Say Pleasanton Middle, with land next to it, add some temporary school rooms there. and take some of the load. Work on configuring each school with a population they can handle and don't make one area of town suffer for past mistakes.


8 people like this
Posted by BobB
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 7, 2018 at 8:36 pm

BobB is a registered user.

"too many box apartments in areas near transportation affect the entire city. "

It is the other way around. We don't have enough "box apartments in areas near transportation". Near public transportation is where you want high density housing.


6 people like this
Posted by Map
a resident of Del Prado
on Sep 8, 2018 at 8:31 am

The topic is overcrowded schools so how does building high density housing anywhere in pleasanton solve this overcrowded problem?? Unless you plan on banning school age children from occupying these units we will never get our school class sizes down to where they should be. Overbuilding is only good for the investors, builders, realtors. Build those new schools while we still have land available, quit stalling and quit trying to put just a bandaid on this problem.


4 people like this
Posted by Jack
a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Sep 8, 2018 at 8:54 am

Jack is a registered user.

If any you remember, the Neal School as going to be provided and paid for 100% by Signature Homes... That was until the greedy leadership of PUSD at the time thought that that meant they get anything they want... (And before anyone starts calling Signature nasty names, the entire mess went to court several times and PUSD lost every single time...)


5 people like this
Posted by Carla
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 8, 2018 at 12:56 pm

@highdiver Where is the land next to PMS? The land on the other side of the railroad tracks? How would that work/help?


6 people like this
Posted by BobB
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 8, 2018 at 7:56 pm

BobB is a registered user.

First world problems. The schools aren't overcrowded. No need for a new school.


12 people like this
Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Sep 8, 2018 at 8:36 pm

PUSD board, absolute primary responsibility, is to get the children out of the decadent portables and into real classrooms. That will require a new school. A new school must be built immdiately. That is what we all, as a majority voted for.


12 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Sep 8, 2018 at 8:51 pm

Its not only what we voted for, its what we paid for.

Im not putting another dollar to the school donation requests until they commit to building one


9 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 9, 2018 at 9:59 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

PP, Just to be clear, we aren’t paying yet. Of the $270 million, only $70 million has been issued so far. (Yes, that means our tax bills will be going up in the near future as more bonds are issued.). The more important part, be it Donlon or a new site, the board has committed to not issuing the remaining $34 million* earmarked for a new school if it is not built. That would mean the total bond would be $235 million, not $270. Personally, I can’t imagine their not wanting those funds, and we will have to be vocal to ensure the funds are not misused (used to add classrooms on multiple campuses).

(*The board set aside $1 million [of the $35 million earmarked for the new school] to explore options. I think that was about $900,000 too much and hope most of that money gets spent on an actual school.)


4 people like this
Posted by Map
a resident of Del Prado
on Sep 9, 2018 at 4:24 pm

@carla. That property on the west side of the tracks by PMS I believe is where the city thinks they are going to build their 200+ million Taj Mahal city offices if they can sneak it pass the citizens, and then bulldoze the existing city offices and library and build “stack and pack” housing, hopefully we can keep an eye on these clowns and shut them down!! As for that Neal property I’m betting it’s worth a lot of money as it sits right now and we will never see a school built there, sure is ripe 5gayUfor a trade though! That 270 million dollar bond will end up buying a lot of consultants and laptops for all the kids, guess we can plan on packing them into those portables till the PUSD Board gets overhauled.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Livermore

on Sep 9, 2018 at 6:01 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Like this comment
Posted by highdiver
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2018 at 5:19 pm

Having lived in Pleasanton for a long long time. I remember when Pleasanton had just one Middle school, Two of my kids were bussed to Dublin Wells Middle school. What a concept Buses. I don't see Buses as an option vs.school portable building. Have the costs for them been calculated vs portables? The other plus is reducing the use of cars to get kids to school. All things do pass though, I remember when San Leandro had 3 high schools, wonder how much that cost, and now back to 1 high school. I type all this because this because I don't want see one area of town punished for the inability of government and school administrators to find a fair solution


4 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 10, 2018 at 6:49 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

highdiver, students were bused to Dublin prior to unification that redrew district boundaries between Dublin and Pleasanton along city lines--so pre 1988. Busing was cut in the early 90s and was about $1 million for drivers, bus maintenance, etc. (call it 25 years ago). Buses themselves can cost over $200,000 each now depending on make/model. Some families pay as much as $750/year to have two children bused ($500 for the first child). The district did try an honor system for parents to pay for busing in order to keep them in PUSD, but it failed miserably leaving bus drivers with the unenviable task of deciding whether to pick up a child they knew had not had fees paid. WHEELS has a partnership to keep routing close to some, if not all, schools. Portables across the district now cost about $200,000 a year for those that we lease (this Wednesday's board agenda includes re-upping leases for two years at Foothill and Amador). The majority of them are past their viable life span.


11 people like this
Posted by Jen
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Sep 11, 2018 at 6:57 pm

Is anyone going to address overcrowding at Amador? Seems like we only hear about elementary schools, but the high school is beyond capacity, too.


5 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Sep 11, 2018 at 7:50 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

It’s a genuine problem and one predicted long ago. However, there isn’t any money in the current bond to build even a small high school.


3 people like this
Posted by Carol
a resident of Alisal Elementary School
on Sep 11, 2018 at 9:01 pm

Carol is a registered user.

Forget about the East Side! Valley and Santa Rita are so impacted already by Alisal, Harvest Park and Amador it has become gridlock for residents living in that part of the community. Then add traffic from Livermore and Highway 84 using Valley. Dont put a school in the east area of town just because the thought is less people will object to it because the land could be used instead of putting an elementary school off Vineyard which the school district already owns. Its a bad location and should be built in the north part of the town where it is needed and the streets in the Hacienda office park are wide and can handle the cars. Plus why would people even think of another school next to the railroad, industrial and garbage dump i would not let my kids play on the polluted land even if the important people said it was cleaned up.


3 people like this
Posted by New Mom
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Sep 11, 2018 at 9:34 pm

I realize most are focusing on elementary- high school, but we were super excited about the newly opened to the public Early Education Infant and toddler site . We toured and the site is a hidden gem!! So sweet and amazing women running it., but it’s already maxing out until they get more staff!. It seems every PUSD school is full, from infancy to high school . We are at the baby end of the spectrum and just hoping Horizon Early Education can get us in. We will deal with the rest as it comes.


3 people like this
Posted by Map
a resident of Del Prado
on Sep 12, 2018 at 5:26 pm

@carol. Probably won’t have to worry much longer about that dump/recycle site, some developer has their eye on it to stick us with a bunch of new homes ( more cars on the road with added horrendous traffic ) but who cares, according to some of the locals we have plenty of room, no problems with our local streets, our schools are not crowded. Some people are making a lot of money here in real estate and who really cares what happens to this town?? Not the city council or city planning and especially not the PUSD.


1 person likes this
Posted by High Schools?
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Sep 15, 2018 at 11:12 am

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