San Francisco Unified School District is banking on the city’s housing element bringing a wave of new public school students — and if all goes as planned, it will.
San Francisco Unified released a master facilities plan of its school sites ahead of plans to propose a $1 billion general obligation bond next year. Based on a demographic analysis prepared by Lapkoff & Gobalet, the district anticipates an increase of 5,000 new students tied to 82,000 new housing units the city plans to build.
This is in contrast to projections by the California Department of Education and other state-level education agencies, which predict a continued decrease in public school enrollment throughout the state.
The plan cited two studies, one of which projected a slight decrease, but did not account for a general population increase tied to new affordable housing.
California’s student enrollment has been declining, largely due to falling birth rates and net migration, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Agencies involved in crafting and overseeing the city’s housing element are cautiously optimistic, whereas experts in neighboring cities are less convinced — all agree that there is no guarantee.
“While San Francisco’s adopted housing element anticipates a significant increase in the number of new housing units in the city, and requires the city to plan for these units, it does not require that these units actually get built. Consequently, there is not a way to ‘guarantee’ that any planned new units will drive (public school) enrollment,” said assistant communication director for the Association of Bay Area Governments John Goodwin.
But including the housing element in its facilities master plan is a wise move for the district, said Dan Sider, chief of staff for the San Francisco Planning Department.
“San Francisco Unified recognized the higher housing targets contained in the housing element because some of the city’s new homes and households will clearly include SFUSD students,” he said.
But echoing Goodwin’s sentiment, Sider added “Exactly how many new homes are built, what percentage will house public school kids, and the pace at which they will be constructed is something that is a function of broader economic and demographic trends that will shape the City over the coming years.”
San Francisco might have a glass-half-full mentality, but in Silicon Valley, experts are wary.
In San Jose, Stephen Levy, director at the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, told San José Spotlight that “It’s not on the city radar when they are doing housing site inventory. No one thinks of looking at whether a school district could really benefit from added students and added housing.”
And in Menlo Park, demographer Thomas Williams, contracted by the Menlo Park Unified School District, predicted a decrease in public school enrollment despite an increase in housing stock by 2,946 units, per the city’s regional housing needs allocation.
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Based on a report delivered to the Menlo Park Board of Education, the decline in enrollment is due to a lower birth rate and the assumption that new housing will still be unaffordable for some families with school-aged children; and many of the proposed apartment complexes there — consisting of one to two-bedroom units — are too small to accommodate families.
“It’s sad ... the most desirable districts to be in are going to have the least kids,” Williams told board commissioners, adding that demographic trends in Menlo Park are consistent with neighboring communities with the exception of San Carlos.
San Francisco also grapples with declining birth rates and unaffordable housing — both of which have contributed to a decrease in public school enrollment in the city.
But new, affordable housing here will be designed to sustain families of four or more because the city’s planning code “requires projects of a certain size to include a percentage of multiple-bedroom units,” Sider said.
“If you have a certain number of two- or three-bedroom units, there is no guarantee that you will have a family living there, but the size and configuration of it would enable that kind of occupancy.”
The intention behind that code is to entice a “healthy mix of people living in the city,” he said.
And it is crucial that more families move to the city, said Supervisor Joel Engardio, who represents the Sunset District.
“If we want our city to thrive, we have to be a city for families. If we attract more families to live here, San Francisco will be a better city for everyone,” he said.
And the district’s facilities master plan is gearing up to expand and improve facilities for those new students.
Still, it’s too early to make any promises, Sider said.
“While the (school) district and the city will continue to plan for the future using the best available data and methodologies, short of death and taxes, no one can offer any iron-clad guarantees,” he said.
The school district will complete a new demographic study this year, which will contain multi-year projections that more accurately quantify student enrollment trends, according to the facilities master plan.