Thousands of tiny studio and "micro" units proposed to be built in the North Bayshore area are unlikely to add many kids to local schools, easing worrisome projections that the city's ambitious growth plans would require as many as five new schools to accommodate the influx, according to demographic estimates released last month.
But school district officials warn that the plans by Google and Sobrato to build 9,850 housing units in the city's tech park remain a major concern, and that the lower estimates for enrollment growth only takes the edge off of a huge need for land and money to build new school facilities.
Previous projections showed that building out the residential development proposed in the North Bayshore Precise Plan could add 2,358 students in the Mountain View Whisman School District and 1,108 students in the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District. Neither school district has the land nor the money to accommodate the flood of new students.
But the projections didn't account for the fact that about 40 percent of the new units are expected to be so-called micro units and studio apartments, averaging only about 450 square feet in size. Very few families with children are expected to live in these smaller units, and revised projections show that the 3,940 micro units and studios will only bring a grand total of 64 new students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The adjusted estimates by the firm Jack Schreder and Associates now show that school districts should expect a total of 2,345 more students -- down from the original 3,466 -- from North Bayshore housing, almost all of it coming from affordable housing units. The city is asking Google and Sobrato to make 20 percent of the new homes affordable, and those 1,970 subsidized units are expected to account for nearly 73 percent of the projected enrollment growth.
The smaller number of new students doesn't really change much, said Mountain View Whisman Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph. The school district still faces a construction funding gap of about $75 million to build school facilities for all the extra students, he said, and that doesn't even account for the fact that the school district still needs land for the new campuses.
"It brought us down from needing three elementary schools to needing two elementary schools," Rudolph said, adding that the district will likely need another middle school campus as well.
Housing growth puts a strain on school districts, particularly here in the Bay Area, because state funding and developer fees intended to offset the impact of growth on local schools are woefully inadequate and only pay for a fraction of the costs for new buildings. Mountain View Whisman, for example, only collects $2.32 in fees per square foot of new housing, and all 9,850 units are expected to generate $16.5 million -- not enough for one small school. Mountain View-Los Altos High School Districts receives even less: $1.16 per square foot.
Acknowledging the tricky situation that local school districts are in, Mountain View City Council agreed in September to inject language into the precise plan requiring Google and Sobrato to submit a "local school district strategy" as part of any dense residential project showing precisely how the developers would assist in building neighborhood schools.
Staffers at both school districts say they were aware the original projections might be overblown. Mountain View-Los Altos Associate Superintendent Mike Mathiesen told the Voice that the downward adjustment on student generation rates were expected, and now gives the district a more accurate glimpse into how North Bayshore housing will affect the district's future plans for growth. Like Mountain View Whisman, the high school district still faces a budget shortfall of about $45 million.
Both school districts are relying on Jack Schreder and Associates for the enrollment growth estimates, and Mathiesen said the firm has been meeting with Google's own hired consultant in hopes of coming to an agreement on the numbers. The final numbers will determine how much money, land and other resources the company will have to put up to help accommodate all the new students.
Katherine Williams, a spokeswoman for Google, said the tech giant acknowledges that housing growth will have an effect on local schools, and is committed to working with the city, community and school districts to "ensure the increased demand residential projects may create can be managed."
Rudolph said the precise plan suggests the district at least meet with Google to resolve any disputes about enrollment growth within 45 days of the City Council approving the plan, but he said he's hoping to come to an agreement earlier than that.
"We hope to have it resolved, or at least be in the same ballpark, in the next couple of months," he said.