Pleasanton Unified School District enrollment this year shrank by more than 400 students and is expected to remain flat for a while but eventually recover, according to a staff presentation at the Board of Trustees' regular meeting on Thursday.
There were 410 fewer students enrolled this year in PUSD compared to fall 2019, especially in transitional kindergarten and kindergarten classes. According to the district, a recent follow-up to a demographer's report from last year forecasted "a declining/flattening of enrollment with growth occurring at a modest rate and later point."
The original report anticipated "continued enrollment growth and increased growth from potential new housing projects," but now staff is predicting that actual enrollment in the short term "will remain flat and be somewhere between 2019 and 2020 projections."
"Much of the changes in the projections are related to the loss of enrollment in 2020-21 and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic," staff said.
Though "it's very difficult to really know where our enrollment is headed," assistant superintendent of business services Ahmad Sheikholeslami told the board, "In the short-term, I think we're going to be flat with hopefully a rebounding of enrollment, and hopefully our enrollment will increase in the next couple of years."
"In the short- and medium-term, there's a flattening of our enrollment as it relates to kids coming from new housing," Sheikholeslami said, noting that some developments such as the East Pleasanton project and multifamily housing near Stoneridge Mall have "stalled," which the demographer adjusted for accordingly.
Looking ahead, both the East Pleasanton project and the city's future housing requirements brings the number of future new housing to "about 6,000 units."
"There's a lot that has to go from that draft report until the city then gets their allocation, and then what type of housing that will actually be and how they will be zoned," Sheikholeslami added. "But at least we know in the long term there needs to be new housing in the community, and that will increase student generation from that, we just don't know the specifics of it because that information is not available at this time."
Trustee Mary Jo Carreon asked if the district's enrollment numbers would rise if there were a plan to go back full-time next year, "and do we have plans to try to get that in place?"
"That is the million-dollar question," Sheikholeslami replied. "It's not going to be an instantaneous recovery." With some students having left the state or country, "how those choices are reversed and how those families come back is a factor."
"There's not a lot of houses on the market, you're not getting new families coming in, right?" Sheikholeslami said. "I think it'll take a little bit of time. I do think there will be a little bit of rebound if things get back to more normal, but the level of rebound is really, really hard to predict right now."
Because funding is based on last year's enrollment levels, it will not be impacted in the coming year, but Sheikholeslami warned the district's 2022-23 funding will "be based on its actual enrollment for that year, and so if we do lose that projected enrollment, we might be looking at a $1.2 million loss of revenue."
Trustee Kelly Mokashi inquired about key strategies to address that loss, and Sheikholeslami answered the district's brand "is key to being able to rebound and attract students back to our schools."
"The key to that is creating opportunities for students who have different needs," he said. "The independent study and Virtual Academy can be a great leverage for those students who really find that as the pathway."
Continued outreach to PUSD families and taking advantage of certain factors "that are in our control" could also help leverage the district's branding. However, Sheikholeslami explained that the Pleasanton Virtual Academy could help increase revenue for the district.
For every student who attends, stays with or returns to PUSD, the district receives state funding, "and for students within the greater Tri-Valley area that feel (Virtual Academy) is the right fit for them, if they were to attend our school district, we would get the revenue for them attending our school district as well," Sheikholeslami said.
"It can play an important role in retention," he added. "It can play an important role in bringing some students back who have left, and it could play a role for students in our local area who would find this as a good education model for them, and then that would be a net add of students"
Another staff recommendation that Mokashi asked about is reconsidering the school enrollment boundaries. The enrollment areas for TK through fifth grade projects expected to grow the most are Alisal Elementary School with 216 additional students, 193 at Lydiksen, 89 at Hearst, 87 at Donlon and 81 at Vintage Hills.
The Mohr Elementary enrollment area is expected to lose the most students (106). Otherwise, Valley View's east and west enrollment boundaries are both projected to decrease by 29 students each, followed by 28 for Walnut Grove and just 8 in the boundary area for Fairlands.
A count of students living in the district's elementary school attendance areas, as well as TK, special day class and out-of-district students, came to a total of 5,948. 1,202 of those students are enrolled but not living in the attendance area.
The number of middle school students enrolled but not living in their respective attendance area was much lower, at just 261. Total enrollment for grades 6 to 8 this year is 3,420, and almost evenly split among all three middle schools -- 1,167 students at Hart and Harvest Park, each, and 1,064 at Pleasanton Middle.
Amador Valley High has 2,700 students enrolled this year-- nearly 500 more students than at Foothill. The alternative site Village High has 103 students, while other programs including independent study and Middle College have between 15 to 45.
"The city's plan for housing for 2023 hasn't been started yet," Mokashi said. "What timeline would we want to think about that boundary change?"
The enrollment boundaries haven't changed since 2000, and Sheikholeslami said, "It's very typical that school districts of our size need to recalibrate every so often, it's just the way it is."
"If you don't recalibrate, you're going to have to shift students around because you can't just keep building in one (area) and one school being low," he added. "Student services (department) has done a really great job of doing that over the years. However, it does leave families in difficult situations when they can't attend their local school."
Mokashi replied, "The sooner we can focus on that (boundary issue), it might help the mobility issues of the students."
Staff will present a plan in April to form several committees "that would start to look at that process and bring recommendations back." Sheikholeslami said the boundary changes "will probably be next year's work," and the district will "also synchronize with the city and work with them as they develop their RHNA (regional housing needs allocation) plan."