Enrollment Projections and School Construction

Nothing gets parents up in arms more than overcrowded schools, boundary changes, and new school construction.  When coupled with accusations of preferential treatment in one end of the county and allegations of paybacks, discussions about school overcrowding, transfers, and construction are bound to engender controversy.

On November 20th the school division will host a work session on enrollment projections and school construction.  The work session will follow the regular school board meeting and will be open to the public, though the public will not be able to ask questions.

The Office of Planning has provided a presentation of materials to aide in the discussion, which you can find on the PWCS web site (go to the PWCS web site, click on the tab for Leadership, then School Board, then Electronic School Board.  When the page is launched, click on the tiny Agenda List link on the right hand side of the page, then click on the link for the November 20 2012 Work Session.  Finally, clink on the EnrollmentForecasts_WorkSessionNov20.pdf file that is linked to that page.  You can also click on the link here, but I really wanted you to see the path needed to actually find this information).

Planning for growth in student membership is challenging because you’re trying to predict something that’s pretty much unknown.  In terms of changes in student population growth, no one predicted the huge increases from 2000 – 2007 and no one expected that the bust and significantly lower student population growth we’re currently seeing.  The Office of Planning does a pretty good job projecting enrollment in the short run, say for the next 1 – 3 years, but when you get out past the 3 – 5 year mark, the accuracy goes down.  That’s not to say that they do a poor job, just that predicting the future 5 years out is pretty much impossible, but with 5 years needed to build a new school, and up to 2 or 3 years needed for additions, somehow we expect the Office of Planning to do the impossible.

The report the Office of Planning provided is mostly complete and I encourage all parents to take some time and look at this report.  It shows where our overcrowded schools are and which schools are likely to be facing boundary changes in the coming years.  Planning for elementary schools appears to be more extensive than for high schools and middle schools.

Parents across the county have been dismayed with the poor planning that appears to be occurring in our schools.  We’ve all heard the stories of students starting the school year without enough desks or chairs or textbooks.  We’ve all seen schools where there are so many students that you can’t walk down the hallways during class changes or where our children spend their entire day in trailers.  These no committee boundary changes have parents across the county on edge.  The net effect is that there is little trust between the public and school division when it comes to boundaries, planning, and new school construction or additions.  The days of blindly trusting the school divisions enrollment projections are long gone.

Missing from the report are transfers in and out of schools.  Also missing are numbers indicating enrollment based on students currently in the school system versus students we project will come to the school system due to housing rollovers and new home construction.  Those numbers are necessary if we’re to actually determine whether our planning for new construction and / or additions is appropriate.  Building a new school based on projected new student growth when another school is projected to be over 1000 students overcapacity with students who are currently enrolled in PWCS is poor planning.  The only way we can determine that is if we can see the numbers.

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