Dubliners for Change is a diverse group of resident volunteers working together to ensure that our city is governed in an ethical, constituent-driven manner. We are dedicated to the preservation of open space and the environment, quality education free from school overcrowding, sufficient infrastructure to support our city, and the development of a premier pedestrian friendly downtown.
Since the formation of the Boundary Committee in 2013, Dublin Unified School District (the “District”) has orchestrated a series of activities to address issues related to student enrollment growth. Community volunteers have actively participated in committees, attended meetings, participated in surveys, attended school board meetings, and met with members of Board of Trustees (the “Trustees). As reported by various media, the Facilities Master Plan community forum held on January 11, 2015 was frustrating for the community. The Superintendent’s response to this meeting published on January 20, 2016 was equally concerning. We want to trust our leaders and the process, but continue to lose faith.
The intent of this letter is to help the District define a facilities strategy and plan that best meets the needs of the community.
This letter includes the following four sections: (1) overview of the current situation, (2) concerns with the current approach, (3) proposed principles, and (4) specific actions to be implemented. We have also included an appendix with various scenarios for consideration.
Overview of the Current Situation:
The following is a summary of the “moderate student enrollment forecast” as published by the District and communicated to the City of Dublin in December 2015. Highlights are as follows:
Key takeaways include hyper-growth of middle and high school enrollment over the 4 1/2 years and declining elementary school enrollment.
Facilities Master Plan
The District is currently developing a facilities master plan (FMP). As we understand it, the current operating plan approved in the June 2015 by the Trustees for middle and elementary schools and the proposed high school strategy presented on January 2015 are as follows (generally in sequential order):
This strategy would yield 4 high school, 4 middle school, and 9 elementary school campuses by 2025 or 17 in total as compared to the existing.
Little detail has been provided to FMP committee members and the community on each of the above including what “satellite” and “academy” high schools mean, where they will be located in (existing or new site, West or East), when they would open, and how attendance for the three Dublin High campuses. Given that 40% of Dublin High capacity under this scenario would be off the main campus, it likely that every high school student in Dublin would be impacted in significant ways.
Current Construction Projects
The District is currently working with the City to finalize a general lease agreement (GLA) with an option to buy for the Jordan Ranch site. A similar agreement is being worked on for the Dublin Crossing site. We understand that the Jordan Ranch GLA involves certain commitments to the City including “dedicating” $20 million of future developer fees for the construction of the Jordan Ranch K-8 school.
The District is also working to finalize design plans for a K-8 configuration of the Jordan Ranch school by late 2016. In January 2016, the District reviewed revised costs estimates for the Jordan Ranch school which had increased by 32% in six months to $64 to $66 million. These costs exclude the value of the land. Additionally the costs do not include the cost of a gymnasium, which may be approved at a later date.
No other major construction plans are in process.
The District’s demographic student enrollment estimates have been understated for years.
As an example, as recently as 2014 the District was stating that Dublin High School enrollment would never exceed 2500 students. In December 2015 the District is now reporting that student enrollment is expected to be close to 5000 by 2025.
The understated demographic estimates caused the District to:
Charge substantially lower developer fees:
As one example, the District did not charge any developer fees for high school facilities from 1998 to 2015 under the erroneous assumption that no additional capacity was needed.
To make misinformed facility investment decisions:
As an example, the District expanded Dublin High to accommodate a maximum of 2500 students in an “open” campus environment. If the District had better demographic estimates, they could have built a more dense (for example three story structures) campus that could have better accommodated a larger student population. Also with better information, the District also could have been more proactive in acquiring land for future schools.
We understand estimates change, but a 100% change in high school forecasts in less than a year is extreme. It is also concerning that for years many in the community challenged the demographic forecasts, yet the District continued to defend these estimates until as late as December 2015.
The current Level 2 developer fees cover less than 20% of actual costs of new schools as compared to the 50% intended by State regulations. The District states that they are charging the maximum allowed, but that doesn’t make common sense given the massive change in demographic forecasts. The Level 2 fees likely can be increased dramatically by including the (a) right costs estimates and (b) projected facilities needs. The right costs include the value of the land and 32% increase in projected construction costs.
The District has entered into mitigation agreements with certain developers that have allowed the developers to pay even less than the current Level 2 fees. As an example, the Dublin Crossing agreement signed in 2013 requires the developer to pay no more than $5.89 per square foot regardless of the actual level of fees. This is almost 20% lower than the current fees. It is hard to understand why the District agreed to such terms given the continuing challenges.
Local General Obligation Bond
The District is currently spending previous approved bond money on highly paid consultants to structure and promote a $284 million general obligation bond for the June 2016 ballot. It is hard to understand how the District could pursue this path prior to completing the facilities plan and increasing developer fees. It is also hard to understand why the community will be asked to pay of a massive tax increase while the District fails to even admit the schools are overcrowded.
Board of Trustee Elections
Four of five Trustees are up for election in November 2016, which is conveniently after the proposed bond offering date.
Concerns with the Current Approach:
Fallon Middle School and Dublin High School will be over-capacity in the Fall of 2016, and no specific plans have been provided on how the District will accommodate these students.
The District has not even admitted that schools are overcrowded
The District continues to support new housing construction.
Much of the focus on the Facilities Master Plan process to date has been on a new local bond versus facilities planning. The District has failed to provide a vision or specifics on how they will effectively educate 5000 high school students.
The District is aggressively pursuing the construction of new elementary capacity at Jordan Ranch and later at Dublin Crossing when their own estimates show this elementary school capacity is not needed.
The District estimates of costs and demographic enrollment projection continue to escalate (sky-rocket).
The City has lost two parks over the past two years because of the GLA’s for Jordan Ranch and Dublin Crossing.
Moving forward we believe the following principles should be applied in solving Dublin’s school overcrowding issues:
Our schools are overcrowded today and will be overcrowded for years to come - we need to recognize this and act accordingly.
The community’s needs are paramount, not the developers.
There is a limit to how big a school can be.
Bigger schools impact the local neighborhoods. They create new safety issues. Just like 1500 students at Fallon Middle School is too many, so is 5000 students at Dublin High.
All funding sources should be leveraged, as opposed to just focusing on tax increases (bonds). The developers can and should pay more.
Facility investment decisions should be prioritized and sequenced based on relative need.
Future administrative and operational costs should be considered when determining the number of campuses. More campuses generally lead to higher administrative overheard.
The District needs to better manage construction costs and forecasts.
We should selectively implement voluntary flexible solutions (for example STEM or foreign language immersion magnet programs such as the ones being implemented in Fremont) to meet the needs of a segment of the community.
We should be honest, transparent and specific with current and future residents.
Specific Actions to be Implemented:
The District needs to unequivocally and immediately communicate to the City that our schools are overcrowded to the City. At that stage it is up to the City to react in accordance with its Charter.
Developer fees can and should be substantially and immediately increased . A new stand-alone high school (on the East side) for at least 2000 students is needed immediately.
We explored various scenarios in the appendix. While the community is open to innovative approaches that make sense, it is hard to envision any scenario where 5000 students attend one high school that was originally designed for 1600.
A 3000 student main campus, 1500 student “satellite” and 500 student “academy” will negatively impact all families with high school age students.
A new high school can be built in phases to manage cash flow and align with actual student growth.
The new high school could also share certain facilities (sports, etc.) to reduce the acreage needed.
The Jordan Ranch school should be built as a middle school and not be built as a K-8.
We understand elementary schools help sell homes, and therefore developers lobby for these schools. However, we don’t need an elementary school at this stage.
This approach will yield 3 comparable Dublin middle schools that will better ensure an equitable educational experience for all students.
Thank you for your focus on this issue.
~Concerned Members of the Community
The following scenarios attempt to apply the principles above and are presented for illustrative purposes and to begin a good faith dialogue. We ultimately concluded that Scenario 1 was the only realistic scenario.
Our 2016 Letter to DUSD Board of Trustees
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Dubliners for Change