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Drawing the lines in Dougherty Valley

School board discusses new elementary boundaries in east San Ramon community

The latest district proposal for changing Dougherty Valley elementary school boundaries received initial support from many parents and some school board members during a special meeting Monday night in San Ramon.

The new staff-recommended boundary option would place students from planned communities in burgeoning southwest Dougherty Valley, some from existing neighborhoods currently in another school's zone and those in two valley-wide school programs at the area's newest elementary campus, expected to open for the 2016-17 school year.

"With the many variables that staff had to deal with, there is no one ideal solution. But when you look at all the various competing factors and competing interests, (the recommendation) appears to get as close as you can to that perfect balance of the competing issues," board clerk Greg Marvel said during the special meeting.

Nearly 80 people attended the two-hour meeting held in the Dougherty Valley High School commons Monday night. The boundary issue was agendized as a discussion-only item, so the board did not debate making a final decision.

San Ramon Valley schools superintendent Mary Shelton told the group the main goal of the new campus is to help alleviate present and projected overcrowding issues at the four existing Dougherty Valley elementary schools: Coyote Creek, Hidden Hills, Live Oak and Quail Run.

"(Live Oak and Quail Run) are the areas that we have to address. (There) are too many students assigned to those two schools for us to house comfortably," she said. "It's the quality of life that we are addressing there, not simply classroom space."

When analyzing boundary options, district officials said they tried to consider safe routes to school and traffic congestion, to balance enrollment at all Dougherty Valley elementary schools and to keep neighborhoods at the same home-schools.

The option recommended by district staff would incorporate planned neighborhoods with several existing ones currently in the Live Oak boundary. It also calls for all Dougherty Valley students in transitional kindergarten (TK) and the Academic Talent Program (ATP) to attend the new campus.

Most of the students living in the affected neighborhoods attend Live Oak, though some were previously diverted to Quail Run.

Any of those children now enrolled in Live Oak or Quail Run would be able to stay at those schools through fifth grade. That option would not be extended to any siblings not enrolled as of this year, under the current district proposal.

A majority of the roughly dozen parent speakers Monday supported the latest boundary-line concept from district staff.

Still, several critics who live in the affected existing neighborhoods did speak out against the recommendation, raising concerns about increased traffic on Bollinger Canyon Road, safety of students walking or bicycling to school and families having to change home-schools -- some now for the second time or more.

The school board also received an opposition petition with 55 signatures purportedly from residents of the Ambridge, Canyon Oaks, Mill Creek and Muirlands communities.

"I wish that there were a perfect solution where we could say, 'hey, this is the perfect solution,'" board vice president Denise Jennison said. "Without disrupting every resident in the valley ... it is really hard to come up with another plan."

The existing neighborhoods recommended to switch home-schools to the new campus are bounded generally by Bollinger Canyon Road to the east, Watermill Road to the west, Harcourt Way to the south and Joree Lane to the north.

Those homes are approximately the same distance from Live Oak as they are from the new school site, at about 1.9 miles each way, according to district staff.

The boundary discussion Monday had a different tone than conversations at two community forums and one board meeting last month, when many parents in attendance raised concerns about the initial district proposal.

That concept called for switching existing neighborhoods now within the Live Oak and Quail Run boundaries into the new school's zone.

District officials reportedly took the community feedback and returned to the drawing boards.

On Monday, they presented nine boundary-line options, which called for the new campus to house anywhere from 463 to 788 general-education students by the 2020-21 school year. As designed, the school could hold as many as 830 students overall.

The scenarios had different combinations for existing and planned neighborhoods being within the new school boundary -- including one that consisted of only undeveloped communities.

The recommended option proved to be the top choice when taking all considerations into account, district officials said.

"We've made a whole lot of people happy tonight -- staff has made a whole lot of people, the board hasn't decided yet -- but there's still that one group that isn't, and that's always hard," board president Rachel Hurd said. "Hopefully grandfathering helps those particular families ease through it."

District projections indicate the recommended option would place 697 general education students at the new school by 2019-20, consisting of 481 students who live within the boundary area, 96 TK students and 120 ATP students.

The scenario also leaves the door open for special education and diverted students as well as the possibility of the new campus housing draw programs such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Planned for a 7.4-acre site in southwestern Dougherty Valley, the new school is designed to include two-story classroom buildings, library, multipurpose room, administrative building, child care facility, playgrounds, public ballfields, and state-of-the art technology and equipment.

The campus would sit on a currently undeveloped portion of the burgeoning Dougherty Valley community in eastern San Ramon, approximately half a mile southwest of the Dougherty Station Community Center and Library.

Construction is estimated at $29.6 million, to be funded through Measure D, the $260 million school facilities bond passed locally in November 2012.

The district hopes the new school would, by 2020-21, help reduce enrollment at Coyote Creek by 135 students and Live Oak by 90 students. Quail Run and Hidden Hills are projected to increase by roughly two-dozen students by that time, under the recommended boundary proposal.

Dougherty Valley elementary enrollment is estimated to rise from 4,375 students currently to 4,561 next school year, nearly 4,600 kids by 2016-17 (when the new school is expected to open) and 4,890 students by 2020-21 (when new-home construction is anticipated to be completed), according to the district's most recent enrollment projection study by Davis Demographics & Planning, Inc.

The Dougherty Valley elementary boundaries have not been formally changed since 2004, according to district officials. The district is not proposing changes to the boundary lines for valley middle schools and the high school.

District officials said they might in the future look at staggering school start times in the Dougherty Valley to address traffic congestion concerns.

The school board is expected to further debate the boundary proposal, and possibly consider final approval, during its regular meeting June 10 in Danville.

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