Bay Area schools see families leaving cities and flocking to suburbs like Dublin | News
Thirty years ago, the Bay Area suburb of east Dublin was little more than miles of ranches.
Today it is lined with new homes and apartments housing thousands of families newly arrived in the area. On a sunny afternoon, the playgrounds, cul-de-sacs and sports fields of the City of 61,000 are teeming with children, and the roads and mall parking lots are filled with minivans and electric cars.
The city’s building boom following the Great Recession has led Dublin’s Unified School District to triple its pupil numbers since 2000, the only district in the Bay Area to do so, while the region as a whole recorded a 3.7% increase between 2000 and 2019. Along with the rest of the state, enrollment in the Bay Area fell about 6.2% during the pandemic to 859,619 students – the lowest in over 20 years.
Families have flocked to Dublin’s Tri-Valley city for its new homes, new jobs, acclaimed schools and proximity to other job hubs in Silicon Valley, Oakland and San Francisco.
Building thousands of new homes and apartments in five new developments has seen the neighborhood of 12,491 students build seven new schools, and two more are on track to bring the total to 15. The US Census Bureau has rated Dublin as the city fastest growing city in California between 2000 and 2019, and one of the 15 fastest growing cities in the nation.
“It’s almost like a new town,” said Ram Bora, whose boys are in kindergarten and year one at Dublin’s Unified Schools. Bora moved from Los Angeles about five years ago and lives in one of the new developments in the east.
Ed Pruno, whose children are in kindergarten and fifth grade, said he left East Bay about 10 years ago to “settle down” and start a family.
He was drawn to Dublin by the positive reviews of his schools on property listing websites as well as the city’s lower house prices compared to other places in the area. Pruno said he moved around a lot as a child and sought out Dublin as a place where his children could complete all of their K-12 education.
“I wanted to give them what I didn’t have,” Pruno said.
Neither Pruno nor Bora said school overcrowding was a problem for their children. Superintendent Chris Funk said the increase in enrollment was “manageable”, although schools had to move some classes to portables as school construction caught up.
Brentwood Union Elementary and Liberty Union High are the other two districts that have seen the highest enrollment growth rates since 2000. Both are located in the eastern Contra Costa County suburbs of Brentwood and Oakley. Much like Dublin, these towns grew rapidly with the construction of new homes. They both doubled their enrollment but still remain below 10,000 students.
However, growing suburbs with modest regional growth between 2000 and 2019 does not tell the whole story. Districts that serve more low-income students in cities with less new construction lost thousands of students during this time, only exacerbating existing budget problems.
Funk has seen what it’s like in up-and-down neighborhoods. Prior to serving as superintendent at Dublin Unified, he held the same position at the East Side Union School District in San Jose, which saw an 8% drop in enrollment between 2000 and 2019.
“I would much rather be in a growing neighborhood than a declining neighborhood,” Funk said. “We are able to give raises to our employees without having to lay off and expand our programming.”
Vallejo City Unified has seen one of the largest enrollment declines in the Bay Area – losing 43.6% of its students between 2000 and 2019, and another 8.7% during the pandemic years from 2019 to 2021 That has forced the district to win $29 million in budget cuts and the closure or consolidation of six campuses since 2017, district spokeswoman Celina Baguiao said.
Vallejo City Unified began to see declining enrollment in the 1990s through the 2000s, and went into state receivership in 2004 after falling into millions in debt. Then came the Great Recession. The working-class town of 120,000 was one of the cities hardest hit by the foreclosures crisis and declared bankruptcy in 2008.
The district still owes $9 million of the state’s $60 million loan, Baguiao said. Paying off debt on an even tighter budget due to lost enrollment makes it harder to fund things that could improve schools and attract more students.
“As we continue to repay the loan, we have the additional financial burden to consider when expanding programs and hiring,” Baguiao said.
As Vallejo school budgets tightened, charter schools attracted students from district schools. According to state enrollment data, the city’s six independent charter schools have grown nearly 84% since 2014, adding a total of 1,099 students during that time, while district enrollment has increased. decreased by 24.7%, or 3,378 students.
Enrollment in charter schools across the Bay Area more than doubled between 2009 and 2021, from 36,810 to 82,875.
The other two Bay Area districts with the highest enrollment decline rates over the past 20 years are Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto and Alum Rock Union Elementary in San Jose. Both districts have had to close schools in recent years to accommodate the loss of funding.
Part of Vallejo City Unified’s high enrollment loss rate can also be attributed to families moving out of the Bay Area due to the area’s high cost of living, Baguiao said.
“While the median price home is cheaper in Vallejo than in most of our neighboring towns, it still costs a lot of money to live in this area,” she said.
Vallejo City Unified and most other districts have not researched where departing families are moving. West Contra Costa Unified, however, has managed to find out where some families are going.
In a report presented at last Wednesday night’s school board meeting, the district found that just over half of the 1,206 students who left the district last year went to another district, while About 14% enrolled in charters, 13% enrolled out of state. and 8% enrolled in private schools. Students enrolled in neighboring Vallejo City Unified and Oakland Unified, as well as Antioch Unified farther east in Contra Costa County.
Of the 539 students who have already filed district transfer requests next year, 76% are going to neighboring Albany Unified and Berkeley Unified school districts. Others go elsewhere in the Bay Area.
West Contra Costa Unified itself saw an 18.5% drop in registrations between 2000 and 2019. Nearby Oakland Unified lost more than 30% of its registrations during this period, while spending increased.
Oakland Unified’s decades-long budget problems prompted the district’s school board in February to approve a proposal to close, consolidate and merge 11 schools to accommodate declining enrollment. The decision was met with hunger strikes and other ongoing protests and actions by members of the community and the local teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association.
The Bay Area’s largest district, San Francisco Unified, saw a 10% drop in enrollment between 2000 and 2019. The city saw an influx of new residents during that time, but the number of households with children declined. In a 2017 policy brief, County Supervisor Norman Yee attributed this to a lack of affordable family housing, which makes the city less attractive than other Bay Area cities for incoming families.
Districts like those that serve higher percentages of students from lower-income families could take another financial hit next year, Funk pointed out. Fewer families are submitting household income forms to their districts, he said, because the forms are no longer needed to access free school meals now that California is providing free meals to all students. This will inevitably reduce the amount of additional funding that districts are entitled to under the local state control funding formula.
“It’s a double whammy,” Funk said.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in EdSource, a publication partner of Bay City News Service. You can read the story in its original presentation here.