Having been a product of the Union School District and now having a son in the same district, I was honored to be asked to participate in a facilities planning committee earlier this year.
The committee was formed with board members, administrators and staff, parents and community members — all with the goal of helping the district grow in a fiscally responsible manner.
It’s not a secret that the school buildings are overcrowded. It’s been a topic for years, starting with the previous administration. A demographics study was completed and temporary solutions were found and implemented, including the modular units outside of Central Elementary that house the kindergarten students.
My son’s class, the fifth-grade class, is one of the “bubbles,” a large population of students moving through a building and throwing off harmonious building capacity. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not breaking fire codes, but they are definitely using every space available.
I know teachers and students suffered somewhat with buildings bursting at the seams, especially before the modular units were purchased for the kindergarten center.
In the last several years, the technology department has moved, more than once, to open more classrooms for students.
Special education teachers used a “push in, pull out” model (which is common), where they don’t have a classroom, but rather “push in” to the student’s class or pull them from class to wherever they can find a space that day.
Sometimes, therapists would work with students on the stage in the gym at Central Elementary, while physical education classes were being held, or in the hallway just outside their class.
The gifted class also was held on the stage in the gym for a short time before the modular units were ready at Central Elementary.
I’m not trying to make things seem worse than they are, just highlighting what administrators have been trying to overcome, all while providing a good learning environment for students.
The modular units have helped immensely, but they were never meant to be a permanent solution.
The facilities planning meetings have been productive, with Superintendent Dr. Steve Weinhold presenting Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recommended classroom sizes, current building square footages, enrollment numbers and soft construction costs if the district moves in that direction.
The administration didn’t just throw all of this information at committee members. They asked for our top priorities, staying mum about the administration’s own discussion on the topic. Obviously, those working in the buildings and with students have their own priorities that also should be addressed. But these meetings were to address parents and the public’s view on facilities.
They let the group ask questions, come up with priorities and move the discussion forward.
This week, administrators will meet with architects, who each will present their own plan to address the district’s overcrowding.
Most of the discussion has centered around a no-tax increase bond issue to fund facility improvements, however, I don’t think a tax levy increase should be off the table.
It’s not too late to be a part of the special meeting with architects Wednesday night, at 7 p.m., in the high school board room.
Even if your child or children, like mine, won’t be able to benefit significantly from improvements, you’ll be a part of helping build a brighter future for the years to come.