Do We Need a New Middle School?

In April, in response to reports of middle school crowding, the Board discussed whether to study adding a fourth middle school.   As part of my work on the Enrollment Committee, I have looked carefully at the District's enrollment trends, and what was driving them.  That analysis made it clear that middle school enrollment was about to peak and then steadily decline for at least the next six years.

We have a crowding problem in middle school.  That is hard to argue with.  But building a new middle school would, ironically, do NOTHING to address the problem we have today, and by the time we got it built, five years from now, it would address a problem that will have gone away.  And devoting resources to studying it will distract us from more pressing and important issues we should be addressing right now.

According to the latest enrollment report, our Kindergarten class will shrink again next year for the 6th year in a row.  Let that sink in - this has never happened in PAUSD since enrollment hit bottom in 1989, almost 30 years ago.  In fact, we have never had TWO years of shrinkage in a row.  So this represents a change, something new, a "new normal."

In light of that, we can forecast at least 6 years of shrinking enrollment in the middle schools, starting next year.  And, absent a change, there is likely more shrinkage to come - the birth rate has continued to decline, and the entire state is experiencing a similar decline in new students.

As we discussed during the EMAC, at 1,000 students (for our larger middle schools), our schools are not unusually big - in fact, they are pretty right the middle of the band of comparable local schools and our national peers.  If we went to 4 schools of 600-700, in fact, our schools would become pretty much the smallest of all our peers, and would struggle to offer the level of choice and electives they do today.

In my view, we need to look at this a different way.  We are talking about a long-term solution to what is, at its core, a short term problem.  SO LET'S ADDRESS IT RIGHT NOW.  Most importantly, we need to staff appropriately - Rita Tetzlaff, working with information provided by Dr. Bowers, has done some wonderful work identifying large classes that probably need to be made smaller, and the staffing required to do so.  This should be given serious consideration for NEXT FALL.   Not a feasibility study; not an assessment; but an actual plan and budget to make class sizes more reasonable.  I am told this work is already underway, which is great.  Skimping on this would be, in my view, a grave mistake.

So let's focus on the present.  It does not make sense to spend our scarce staff resources on studies of new buildings we very likely will not need, when there are other more pressing issues to focus on, like improving the experience in our existing schools.  As a several people have said now, there is no comfort for a "bubble class" student or family that in a few years, things will be better.  They need mitigation NOW; to be candid, they needed it yesterday.  

So I encourage the board to focus its own and the staff's effort and attention on that, where I know it will have a valuable result.


Todd Image

Father of three, alumni of Briones, Barron Park, Terman, Gunn, and Morgan Autism Center

Career: 25+ years in technology, management consulting, growth investing

PAUSD: PTA officer; Bond Oversight chair; Enrollment Committee elementary chair; Bond Tax Rate Committee founder and spokesperson

Education: BA, Harvard College, MBA Harvard Business School

Feel free to contact Todd directly at 650-403-2084 or todd@toddcollins.org.

Paid for by Todd Collins for School Board 2016  (FPPC ID 1384953) | Photos courtesy Felipe Munera Savino (except as noted)

Created with NationBuilder using a public theme by cStreet