Pleasanton schools have a challenge: Finding room for increasing enrollment that district leaders believe may continue.
When schools closed for the Christmas break a year ago, the 14,856 students in the district went home for the holidays. When schools opened two weeks later, 140 new kids showed up, a surprise not predicted by the district's demographer.
Besides rushing to find seats for all of them, the district had to hire 11 new teachers, not an easy find in the middle of the school year.
"The demographer's predictions were wrong," Superintendent David Haglund told a Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce forum last week. "The surge was mostly at the elementary school level. That's why we have an enrollment issue now. Had that trend (the demographer's forecast) not reversed, we would have 200 fewer kids in our schools" -- not 140 more.
Analysts at first blamed the surge on housing projects that have been completed recently as the city rezoned 70 acres for high-density apartments to meet court-ordered and state mandates.
But that wasn't the case. Haglund investigated and found the newcomers mostly came from homes their parents were buying in the Val Vista and Valley Trails neighborhoods, served by Donlon Elementary School.
"This is where homes are less expensive, and where people who have lived there for 30 or 40 years are moving out," Haglund said.
So, it's home resales, especially in those neighborhoods, that are causing the surge, with sales continuing, he added.
Haglund listed several options facing the school district to meet these enrollment gains: build a new elementary school, redistrict attendance boundaries, raise the ideal number of children at each elementary school or convert some schools to handle kindergarten through eighth-grade classes.
While raising the current 650-student limit to 700 could make sense, five of the district's nine elementaries already handle at least 700 students. At the start of the year, Donlon had 814 students, Fairlands had 785 and Walnut Grove a total of 728.
Adjusting current school boundaries also is being considered. That could solve problems for now, but that would upset everyone in town.
Haglund said that the cost of converting Donlon and Hart Middle School to K-8, as suggested, would cost $14 million over what it would cost to build a new school. The district just doesn't have the money for that. However, if the city's east side is developed with housing, developers would pay for a new school there, which would be a K-8 school.
A new elementary school was included in the recently approved $270 million Measure I1 bond issue, but where?
Haglund and his team have spent months searching for a school site in north Pleasanton, where the school is needed, without success. They did find three office buildings that the district could buy and tear down, but that would cost $45 million before a new school was even built. He called that proposal "ridiculous."
The district also owns a 3-acre school site on Vineyard Avenue where Neal Elementary was to be built years ago. Once planned to serve Ruby Hill children, those kids are now college-age or older. The school is no longer needed.
"That site is nowhere near where the kids are today," Haglund said.
Haglund said he and a study group will propose their recommendations for handling the district's enrollment dilemma at a workshop meeting of the Pleasanton school board on Dec. 18. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. in the school district's headquarters at 4665 Bernal Ave.
See you there.