As the first public forum to discuss the future of Union R-XI facilities nears, some in the district have their minds on possible solutions to overcrowding issues.
The forum will be held in Central Elementary’s cafeteria Tuesday, Aug. 29, where Superintendent Steve Weinhold hopes to hear what the community thinks might be the best solution to overcrowding.
“Right now we have invitations out for people that we’ve invited by recommendation from board members and administrators,” Weinhold said. “We’re looking district wide. We want to get people’s ideas and thoughts.”
Weinhold said before moving forward with any solutions to the district’s overcrowding problems, the school board and his administrative team needs input from the community.
As the school year starts and enrollment fluctuates, administrators around the district are starting to see first hand where there may be future issues in their buildings.
At Beaufort Elementary, Principal Kendra Fennessey worries another bubble, like the last-minute addition of several first-graders this year, may prove too much for the building.
She said she hopes the district can be proactive about the facilities issues brought on by student “bubbles” and avoid reactive solutions in the long run.
She said the sudden and unpredictable influx of students often are manageable, but the recent need for another first grade class has filled up Beaufort’s last classroom.
“The inn is full,” Fennessey said. “We definitely have a need. We don’t want to be reactive down the road, we want to be on the proactive side. There are a million options and it will be interesting to see what the community wants.”
Beaufort currently serves 392 students, slightly less than last year’s headcount. But the bubbles Fennessey describes often appear in the lower grades, and can make a manageable class become too much for one teacher when a sudden influx of students appears, like at Beaufort.
“This year was great because we had a room. But we don’t want to get to the position where we have another bubble and we don’t have a place to go,” Fennessey said. “Each year enrollment changes a little bit, it shifts.”
The meeting will give residents in the school district a chance to discuss possible expansions to the district’s facilities with administrators and board members at a public forum.
The discussion comes after years of debate on how to best permanently address overcrowding at Central Elementary, where kindergarten students currently are taught in modular units outside of the school building. The issue, though, is expanding to schools like Clark-Vitt and Beaufort Elementary.
In 2015, the school board agreed to a short-term solution by leasing two modular classrooms currently placed adjacent to Central Elementary.
This gave some immediate relief to the overcrowding that was causing teachers to teach class in whatever free space was available at the school, including hallways. The district has a large population bubble that started as early as 2014.
At the same time the board also approved a three-phase plan that aimed to address the overcrowding in the long term.
At a facilities meeting in June, board members and administrators discussed several different facility options for the district that could lessen the impact or lighten student population bubbles in the district.
The options include building a new elementary school on the east side of town, building a storage warehouse (freeing up space in school buildings), reorganizing grades, building an early education building and possibly expanding Union Middle School.
At a meeting in May, Weinhold discussed the current budget, boundary lines, bus routes and provided renderings of what some of those options would look like. He said the district is considering a $12 million no-tax increase bond issue in 2018 and/or a $15 million in 2019, a decision that should be made before the end of the calendar year.
Most recently, the school board voted to approve prepaying $1,200,000 of its March 1, 2020 and 300,000 Series 2012 bonds. Weinhold said this helps the district prepare for the future and the possibility of putting forth another bond measure.
“This is money we are prepaying to prepare for the future,” Weinhold said.