Around Pleasanton: School leaders facing dilemma as enrollment surges


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.

Editor's note: Jeb Bing is editor emeritus for the Pleasanton Weekly. His "Around Pleasanton" columns typically run on the second and fourth Fridays of every month.

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21 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Nov 25, 2018 at 9:35 pm

Grumpy is a registered user.

One obvious flaw.

“Once planned to serve Ruby Hill children, those kids are now college-age or older. The school is no longer needed.”

Same logic as with Valley Trails. Why in the world would one really offer as a solution for a problem the exact same error that made the problem...

Families occur in cycles. The kids grow up. The parents retire and sell. New families move in. The demand renews.

Please fire the demographers if they cannot produce a multigenerational average for determining school sites. (Short term staffing is a different issue, and a place where intragenerstional flux is legitimate.)

21 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Nov 25, 2018 at 10:17 pm

Completely agree. Its not that the information wasnt perfect, it was flat out incorrect in a way that any person living here would have gotten closer to a realistic estimate.

I dont want a k-8 school. More congestion, too big of an age gap at the population size that needs supported. I voted for a new school, build it.

8 people like this
Posted by Arulmani Rajendran
a resident of Walnut Grove Elementary School
on Nov 26, 2018 at 5:45 am

We were hit by a move made in last December out-of-town. We returned in Jan 2018 but by then we suffered from being axed out of our home school - Wanut Grove, and battle out traffic and the clock to send our son to school each and everyday since, all the way out in Lydiksen!!

Even though such housing and interrelated school overcrowding happens in generational loops of about 30ish years in neighborhoods, just adding a school site or two as needed in the longrun will be totally beneficial, as we have to understand and appreciate what a sought-after district PUSD has turned into, and make tye needed accommodations!

13 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Nov 26, 2018 at 8:05 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

From Jeb’s Original post I wrote:

So much missing here.

This was a presentation to the Chamber of Commerce. I think it is their effort to get the Chamber to back a new bond for another $120MM in 2020 . . . on top of the $270MM we just voted for two years ago.

There are over 200 students unable to attend their neighborhood schools. With no buses, these students are driven across town by their parents. It is rare, but sometimes a family with two elementary students could see those children in two different elementary schools.

Rules are such that if an interdistrict student (IDX—children who do not live in Pleasanton) is accepted, as an example, in kindergarten, the child has the right to stay in that school through fifth grade (same for middle and high). If a kindergartner moves into the boundary area of that same elementary and there is no room left after the IDX student is placed, the Pleasanton child will be transferred to another elementary—and potentially can never go to their neighborhood school because the IDX student has the right to stay. There are over 200 IDX students in the district. Some are special ed and some are the students of teachers (I have no quarrel with either of them). But I have been waiting since August for how many of that 200 are students that do not fit in those categories. If the majority of the 200 are not special ed or teachers' children, then we need a moratorium on accepting IDX students.

The new school option has been discussed since the bond was passed with NO action. Lots of discussion. The best idea has come from Mr. Maher to split the property at Donlon and make a TK-2 and 3-5 campus. It is the fastest and cheapest option. But staff keeps pushing for bigger schools. They have no money for that option. None. The board committed to not issuing the $35MM in bonds if a new school was not built (I personally believe the Donlon option is fulfilling a new school requirement), So, they will not sell—and we will not pay for—$35MM in bond funds. That lowers the $270MM bond to $235MM, with a lower impact to taxpayers. Haglund cannot have that money to expand other schools.

A few of us have repeatedly argued that the demographer is not understanding the Pleasanton dynamic. We have shown the board spreadsheets proving we are gaining students. For years. We fought for the new school to be part of the bond, and to my horror at least, watched as they chose to tear down an existing school rather than start the new school (a three- to five-year process that has not even begun), and that school does not add capacity (unless the board reneges yet again and allows schools over 700).

The district once committed to elementaries of 600 students and put it in the City's General Plan. We are now at 700 and more, and staff is suggesting even larger schools.

By the way, Donlon is well over 700; over 800 actually. And 160ish students being sent to other schools are from Donlon, putting the school close to 1,000 or so.

The K-8 option is dead on arrival. The only place this idea would work is if the East Side Development is built and the school is placed there to accommodate those new students.

Staff consistently insists there is no money to operate a new school, trying to build a case for not building anything. Yet we gave $2.5MM in raises, are going to do some “belt tightening", and haven't settled with the classified union, where the belt tightening is likely to occur (always does). The board needs to prioritize and start putting money aside for operating a new school, then they can give raises (and I think the raises are warranted)"just want students to come first).

The Neal site is an asset that should be sold or traded to add to the coffers to build the new school.
Now that we are paying for technology through bonds, the Sycamore fund is another asset for building a new school (at any grade level).

I will say this as many times as it takes, staff has an agenda, and they will keep driving the board to that end, by direct recommendation or by continuing to stretch out the discussion process. Doing nothing is also a decision.

13 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Nov 26, 2018 at 8:06 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

I should add, bigger schools are a horrible option. Our children had that experience when Walnut Grove was 1,000+ (K-6 and before CSR). There are limited resources and hidden/unexpected costs. Library time and materials (5 students need a book, maybe there are 2 copies). Lunch was split over three periods. Play space is limited. Office/support staff is limited. And if we are belt tightening, office/support/library staff is what will get cut. Often there aren't enough counselors. So all services to students suffer and so do families and their children. At WG (late 80s), they attempted to have the school secretaries trained to give injections to students because they cut nursing staff.

If K-12 education in Pleasanton is a draw, and if we are trying to provide the best learning environments for this community's children, schools of more than 700 (already arguably large) are not the answer.

2 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Nov 26, 2018 at 8:43 am

Grumpy is a registered user.

Kathleen, thanks for the explanation.

Let me try to see if I understood it right. You’re saying that the staff does not want to build a new school, and so is having the demographer sabotage the projections to justify their goals? If so, why do they not want a new school?

As for inter district transfers, where are they coming from? Livermore? Dublin?

I agree that tearing down one school for a needless rebuild is wrong, and yet no one runs for the school board on a platform to replace the staff who decided these issues. Why is that, do you suppose?


13 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Nov 26, 2018 at 9:16 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Grumpy, staff has never wanted to build a new school, except maybe briefly when Signature was going to build Neal. One superintendent managed to ruin that possibility with two lawsuits we lost. The reason has always been “there’s no money for operating costs.” But there’s been money for raises, which also are an ongoing, forever cost.

I am not blaming the demographer, and I have said this to the board. The demographer is directed by staff. While I don’t think instructions are to sabotage, one thing, that I believe still continues, is portables are counted as permanent structures. That way it always looks like we have sufficient space for new students. It’s how every single school has exceeded its original capacity (beyond what it was originally built to house).

IDX students come from many other communities, not all of them close. I’d have to look for that information. Often these students can be children in need of services our district can provide, but their home district cannot. Others are the children of our teachers. I have no quarrel with either of those scenarios. But how many are in those categories? I think special ed was around 40; that leaves 160 we don’t know. To be clear, we get about 70% of the per pupil funding from the sending district (amounts may be different for special education cases). It would seem that’s not enough funding, but if you think of this as squeezing one more child into an existing classroom . . . It’s not unlike adding a few more noodles to a pot for an unexpected guest; it doesn’t cost much.

I have tried to talk with a few board members. My message is that it’s okay to be friendly or collaborative with staff, but you are the superintendent’s boss, not his/her chum. Board members need to ask tougher questions; they need to press staff for better reporting—more in depth, more data—so they fully understand what goes into the recommendations being made. (This is true on the City’s side of Main St. as well.). It’s why we are seeing a lot of hand wringing and discussion and no movement in getting a new school built. They set aside $1MM to study and prep. Really, how long does it take to realize there are few spots for a school? How long to decide Donlon should be the choice (20 acres, more than one access road)? Yet staff has recommended yet another meeting in December to continue the discussion.

As for Lydiksen, I don’t think anyone looked at remodeling as opposed to a tear down. Even with the tear down, this school did not need to be the first thing tackled. The people who pushed this choice (because Lydiksen did not get prior funding) should be embarrassed.

11 people like this
Posted by Jack
a resident of Downtown
on Nov 26, 2018 at 9:45 am

Jack is a registered user.

Kathleen and Grumpy are right! I too believe demographers produce the results they are asked to produce, in these cases, that Pleasanton doesn't need new schools. But even then, when I was following this stuff more closely, for several years in a row, demographers would say that enrollment is growing, but John Casey, would respond, "Well, that's just this one year, the trend is that enrollment will go down." And the next year it went up again, and the next, and then finally it pulled back one year, and he said, "See, I told you, enrollment is dropping." And the Neal School never got built.
Kathleen is right! The Board needs to lead, and tell them to build a damn school! Haglund will move on someday, but we the voters, tax payers and parents in Pleasanton will be stuck with the mess he and his staff (And Casey's, and the other Super's) leave behind...

3 people like this
Posted by Val Vista Family
a resident of Val Vista
on Nov 26, 2018 at 9:48 am

The 3 options Mrs. Gates showed us were just 3 different options of having 1200 students at Donlon. They propose that adding a better drop off at the back of the school with suffice in taking care of the traffic nightmare.
Ummmm no!

7 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Nov 26, 2018 at 9:59 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

VVF, totally understand your concern. Do you have another answer? There are 20 acres at that school (meant to be a middle school). The one option the district might have had was lost in a bizarre set of events, and wasn’t ideal either. There is $34MM to build with. All the growth is in that section of town. Plan B is build Neal and shift every single school boundary. That will never work.

2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Livermore
on Nov 26, 2018 at 10:06 am

Why don't parents move to Livermore instead? Oh that's right, our schools suck and our Superintendent Kelly Bowers, who has a compensation package of $385,000 (last reported), spent school bond money to buy administrative buildings in the hills near Costco.

8 people like this
Posted by Richard Henley
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Nov 26, 2018 at 10:11 am

AND all of this in a district already having trouble attracting and retaining teachers, with many fleeing from the Bay Area for the chance to own a home or to neighboring districts that pay better.

Unfortunately for Haglund and his team, this problem has been coming down the road long before his rein. We're great at building house after house after house, but fail to plan for these newcomers to have school age children. Look at Valley Trails. Just tore out a church on a viable school site to allow a developer to build more the already overcrowded Donlon Elementary boundaries.

4 people like this
Posted by Billie
a resident of Bonde Ranch
on Nov 26, 2018 at 10:11 am

I have a different viewpoint. We have always, to my knowledge, been an open district. When my kids went to Amador it was no secret that many of the athletes lived in other cities and attended our schools. Heck, Junior Adams lived in Fremont right next to Rick Sira and rode to school with him each day. We should be proud that people want to attend our schools and rather than turning them away should be more welcoming to those who don't have as much as we do. We have welcomed children of illegals to our schools and don't complain so why now? We need to open up our pocket books and pay more to support those in need.

3 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Nov 26, 2018 at 10:21 am

Grumpy is a registered user.

Thanks, Kathleen. What I still don’t understand is why staff doesn’t want a new school. Usually, officials (government and business) much prefer growth over being a caretaker only. That way, they can say they’ve accomplished something career-wise -‘s grow themselves and get jobs with larger scopes later. (Look at Dublin.)

What’s making them hold off here?

I do see your point about counting portables. I might quibble a little in saying that permanent construction is often made of equally flimsy material, and portables now are closer to permanent than they’ve been. But my bigger concern with the demographic projections is that we will always have families with children, and it’s an absolute lie to ever claim that we have an aging population with decreasing need in the future. In fact, it’s such a lie that it seems to be malpractice. It’s easy to apply that false argument to anything and get ridiculous results.

Also, we did vote for a new school. The board has to realize that they will have been horrendous failures if they don’t deliver.

Like this comment
Posted by Jack
a resident of Downtown
on Nov 26, 2018 at 11:49 am

Jack is a registered user.

8 people like this
Posted by Billie
a resident of Bonde Ranch
on Nov 26, 2018 at 2:20 pm

In addition I think this is just the beginning. Many of the people in my area, most are original owners, are thinking of selling and moving out of the area. It might be a good idea to rent one of those buildings over in Hacienda Business Park and use it rather than new brick and mortar.

5 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Nov 26, 2018 at 2:43 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Billie, We aren’t an open district. We are, however, subject to allowing those who work in Pleasanton to enroll their children in our schools (Allen bill I think). BUT, the caveat is this is only **on a space available basis**. Both high schools are over 2,500 students—schools built for 1,800. There is no space available. Sports are great for some students, but we are educating young people, not creating future sports teams. Many families can’t afford to have a child in sports, even with the Boosters and all the work they do.

Grumpy, about as frank as I can be is a new school’s operating cost is some hundreds of thousands of dollars a year that then can’t be spent on raises, nor can it cover the additional impact of pension contributions. As much as I agree we need to be competitive, the board is already warning about cuts to accommodate this $2.5MM increase in ongoing costs to the general fund. That can mean program; it certainly will mean classified jobs.

As I said above, this is the warm up to ask for $120MM in bond funding with little to show for the $270MM we just voted for. The new bond might have wings if work on a new school had gotten past talk. At this point I’m in the no, no, and h e double hockey sticks no camp.

6 people like this
Posted by Map
a resident of Del Prado
on Nov 26, 2018 at 8:40 pm

What’s it going to take to wake up that school superintendent and the school board, boy are they out of touch with what’s happening in this town?? We have young families moving into all that new stack and pack housing and apartments bringing a bunch of school age children with them, it’s happening all over town not just in the Val Vista and Valley Trails neighborhoods, makes me wonder who really benefited besides Ponderosa Homes when they bought out that church property at the back of Valley Trails which was always to be a school built there as far back as I can remember ?
No more bonds passed till we see a new school built as promised with money from this last bond, quit making excuses, stop wasting our money.

1 person likes this
Posted by Ned & Tracy
a resident of Country Fair
on Nov 29, 2018 at 10:20 am

Well gee wiz, I think we have an answer. Just take a page out of the Dublin City Planners playbook & BUILD BABY BUILD! I mean with all that property tax & new construction revenue coming in that should pay for a couple of new schools...right Dublin?

Poor planning, mismanagement of allotted funds & with the additional 2200-2300 housing units coming on the market over the next 12-18 months it's only going to get worse.

Glad our kids are no longer subject to this nonsense.

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