Sonoma school district looks at demographics and boundaries

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A demographic study of where students live within the Sonoma Valley Unified School District – and in relation to the schools they attend – will help the district plan for the future in many ways including whether to redraw boundaries, officials said Tuesday at the school district board meeting.

“I see this demographic study as an opportunity to inform us as we ask these really tough questions,” said Melanie Blake, Flowery Attendance Area Trustee of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District.

“We’re going to have to ask our community, what do we value and what do we want this to look like?” said Blake.

Among other things, the results of the study will help the board determine if there are enough “resources at each site” and that the resources and programming is “equitable,” Blake said, as well as if the district should focus on so-called neighborhood-based or schools-of-choice attendance model.

The board agreed Tuesday to hire Davis Demographic and Planning, a company in Riverside, to create a demographic study of the district, which will provide an analytical report to include items such as a comprehensive look at where students live now and where they are projected to live, projected housing developments and how that may shift boundaries, and facilities planning. The anticipated cost of the study and services is about $20,000.

Davis will provide “an array of support… not just a binder,” Blake said.

Associate superintendent Bruce Abbott, who gave a presentation on the need for the study at Tuesday’s meeting, said the results will help the district “optimize our boundaries, because right now they don’t seem to be defining communities.” Abbott also said Davis will train the district in how to use the program and the report.

Current maps identifying where students live show “interesting concentrations,” Abbott said, and what’s maybe more interesting is “what you don’t see,” which is “kids from a neighborhood all going to one school together.”

Trustee Britta Johnson, elected from the Prestwood attendance area, said the board will make decisions in part based on the data provided by Davis, and will also be “informed with anecdotal” elements such as what they learn from the community and how people feel about their particular schools. The board agreed that the study will provide evidence and data necessary to help them make decisions, but they will need community input as well.

“So, while I don’t want to spend money we don’t need to spend, I actually believe this is an important first step in the process of really visioning not just what our programs look like, but physically what our district looks like because those things really can’t live separately from each other,” Johnson said.

Nicole Abate Ducarroz, trustee elected from the Dunbar area, asked Abbott how long it had been since a demographic study was completed. He said a limited report was done in the mid-2000s, but they both agreed it had been more than a decade since a comprehensive report was received.

Enrollment in the district has been declining, and Sassarini attendance area Trustee John Kelly wondered if there was any correlation to the closing of the Sonoma Development Center. With the loss of employees at the center, there may be some connection to students leaving the area because of that closure.

The demographic services will include mapping software that the district can use on its own without the involvement of Davis, Abbott said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the school board's representation area. Trustees represent the entire student body, but live within a school boundary in which they are elected.

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