Tuesday, December 15, 2015

More about Enrollment Growth

I had three takeaways from the Richardson ISD's 2016 Bond "listening tour."
  • Those multipurpose facilities (MPFs) seemed expensive. Comparisons with similar facilities in other school districts were lacking.
  • There wasn't enough in the bond to address anticipated enrollment growth over the next five years.
  • There appeared to be no way to avoid a tax rate increase, even if only maintenance and construction for enrollment growth were addressed.
The RISD school board addressed the first two of my takeaways at their December 7th meeting. Here, I want to cover the board's actions on enrollment growth.
The RISD "School Times" newsletter has the story:
Staff and trustees discussed strategies to address elementary enrollment growth. RISD has constructed 59 elementary classrooms at 10 schools since 2012 to create capacity for additional students. Construction will be completed on six additional classrooms at an eleventh school (Prairie Creek) in time for the 2016-17 school year.

Despite the recent construction of additional classrooms, some elementary schools are operating close to or at capacity and are overflowing students in some grade levels to other schools that have space. RISD anticipates receiving an updated demographic report in January that will include projected enrollment at schools and districtwide into the next decade.

Trustees and staff discussed potential options if the updated report indicates the need to consider longer-term solutions such as construction of additional classrooms at a school, redrawing attendance boundaries and/or construction of a new school.

If construction is needed, the source of funding could potentially be included in the 2016 bond or paid for through one-time use of operating funds.

One strategy RISD could employ to address elementary enrollment growth in the 2016 bond involves including a placeholder dollar amount dedicated to address the issue. The strategy would allow RISD and stakeholders the flexibility and time to address growth as needed through the five year bond period.

The Board also heard strategies to address current elementary enrollment growth for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year, including potential expansion of eligibility for all Lake Highlands areas to apply to attend any elementary magnet school; enhancement of magnet offerings at Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet (the elementary magnet school that has traditionally served Lake Highlands); studying the possible relocation of central programs to provide more comprehensive services and create classroom capacity at specific schools; redrawing attendance boundaries; continuing to utilize overflow as a strategy on a school-by-school basis in grade levels that reach the state-mandated 22 student cap in each K-4 section; and/or temporarily exceeding the 22 student cap on a school-by school basis to reduce student overflow.

More specific long-term options will be discussed by trustees, including potential items for inclusion in the bond, once the updated demographic report is available in January.

Source: RISD "School Times".
It's all there. Enrollment growth is on the minds of the school board. It's been on their minds all along. Ten schools have been expanded since 2012. Two high schools are proposed for expansion in the new bond. It's too bad that the scheduled enrollment growth study couldn't have been accelerated so its results could have been presented to the public on this "listening tour." It's too bad that a placeholder for additional expansion wasn't included in the 2016 bond proposal so the public would know that the school board is aware of the need. But that's water under the bridge.

I'm confident that by the time the school board signs off on any bond package that projected enrollment growth will be comprehended in it. I'm confident that Richardson residents will support the maintenance and construction needs to sustain Richardson's reputation as a superior school district, even if it means a tax rate increase.

As for the third of my takeaways, the need for a tax rate increase, I promoted breaking up the bond package into three or four separate propositions for the voters to consider. What comes of that takeaway, I'll have to be content to wait until all the content of the bond is determined.