Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Planning Our Future

Based on known variables and algorithms, we are able to project and defend what we believe enrollment will look like five years from now. However, the unknown variables really are the head-scratcher here, aren't they? The biggest of which is the impact residential development will have on future class sizes. While I have no crystal ball or formula with which to base my analysis, all we can really do is speculate. So, what may that look like?

Where I live, there are approximately 26 lots under development. Then there is the apartment complex on Springfield Avenue which is projected to have around 48 units. If we add Twin Oaks into the mix, that would be another 67 households. How many school-age children? As a start, is it appropriate to assume one school-age child per home? Considering some families may have as many as 3 or 4 while others may have 0, 1 per household seems like a good place to start. So for easy math, let's assume an additional 141 students.

Now, what becomes really challenging is trying to figure out when these phantom students may materialize and at what grade levels. According to known variables, enrollment in the next five years should peak at 747 in the 2020-2021 academic year. Again, that is before assuming the residential growth that is currently underway. If we add our mystery 141, that could put enrollment as high as 888. Remember though, this is all speculative and becomes even further complicated when trying to determine what grade levels will be impacted and by how much. But for the sake of argument, we'll consider an equal distribution of pupils which would put our average class size around 68 students. At this size, our elementary school would need to be equipped to handle three sections of each grade level with approximately 23 students each. Or four sections at 17.

Good news. Right now, we are operating a 3 section elementary with the exception of one grade level that has 2 sections. Suffice to say, I believe if we had an enrollment increase in excess of 100 students we would be able to absorb this without too much trouble. However, there are some statisticians that suggest new residential development should assume 1.5 children per household, which could very easily put us in the 4 section category. Using the same math from above, this would give us an average class size of 74 students.

I'll bet you are wondering if our current facility can accommodate a 4 section elementary. I contend that it can, but we will have to get creative with how we utilize our space. Right now, we are very generous with the allocation of instructional space. If enrollment goes where we think it could go in the future, we will need to rethink how our spaces are used.

The good news is that we are thinking about it. Right now, you are aware that we are renovating the elementary school and just recently completed phase one of that project. Planning for phase 2 is underway. The scope of that project includes the North wing of the elementary, which is where the 4th and 5th grade is currently housed. If you are unfamiliar with this section of the building, it is the wing directly to the left in the photo above. The scope of this work includes new lighting, ceilings, windows, and air conditioning. We had plans to tackle the second floor of the facility with part of this phase as well, but some mechanical issues were uncovered that forced us to reevaluate our plans. The current scope of this project is slated for board approval in November with a tentative bid letting scheduled for December.

It is entirely likely and conceivable that we will commission our architect to begin a study this winter and consider what it would look like, and what it would cost to convert our building from a three section to a four section elementary. At the same time, we will need to be engaged with our legislators who will be meeting in Des Moines and ask them to consider the elimination of the sunset on the SAVE fund. I'll remind you, this was one of the priorities the Board of Directors outlined in their legislative platform this past summer. It may seem like a long time off yet, but with a 2029 sunset on this fund, it significantly impacts our ability to move some of these projects forward.

While I haven't spent much time talking about the high school, that is not to mean there aren't needs in that facility. If you have any experience with that building, you are aware that we have begun the process of replacing the roofs, and are beginning to plan for updating the mechanical systems. But in terms of space? Assuming we did have an increase in enrollment and average class sizes approaching the mid-70s, it is helpful to take a look at our enrollment history. In the 2006-2007 school year, the average class size in the high school was 73.5.

Well, I'm not sure our gazing into a crystal ball has yielded many answers. All I know for sure is that it's a good time to be a Pirate and that whatever happens with enrollment, we'll be ready.

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