T ahoma’s overcrowding and budget problems will impact the district’s younger students next year with bigger class sizes overall and some loss of computer labs and activity spaces — and some students may be pulled out of their home schools and bused across town.
Where physically do we put kids?
Superintendent Mike Maryanski told the school board that the district is struggling with configurations for next year as it looks at staffing needs.
“We’re full in the elementary buildings, and we have very low flexibility,” he said. “We’re rapidly getting to” larger class sizes because the district has run out of space for new teachers.
A $125 million construction bond would have added a new elementary school as well as classrooms across the district, but voters rejected the bond in April 2011 — and two others before that. As the second-fastest growing district in King County, all Tahoma buildings except the middle schools are now full beyond their designed capacity. Tahoma offers the lowest square footage per student in the county.
“Overall, class sizes are going to increase beyond what we would prefer and what we believe is best for students and teachers,” said district spokesman Kevin Patterson. “Cramming students into spaces not designed for classroom use, overtaxing basic support facilities such as lunchrooms, lavatories, libraries and hallways will have an impact on student learning.”
At Rock Creek Elementary, for example, Human Resources Director Mark Koch initially told the board it might consider eliminating all-day kindergarten to open up a classroom after enrollment projections showed a need for an additional first-grade class.
“That’s something we’re wrestling with: Where physically do we put kids?” Koch said.
Shadow Lake Elementary is the only elementary that is losing a bit of enrollment, so it has more space flexibility than the other three elementaries. As a result, the district considered shifting school attendance boundaries for next year. But the idea was rejected because the district could not devise a plan that would shift enough enrollment out of the Rock Creek attendance area.
Instead, the district plans to enact a “cap-and-shuttle” program for students in schools that have run out of room, busing them elsewhere, most likely to Shadow Lake. For example, the fifth grade classes at Glacier Park are projected to be maxed out at 29 students in the fall, so additional students would be bused to another school that has smaller fifth-grade classes. The likelihood of the cap-and-shuttle plan going into effect will depend on final enrollment numbers in the fall.
Maryanski told the board Tuesday that the district is planning to keep all-day kindergarten at Rock Creek. To create space for first grade, it will move a teacher from third grade to first, then make the third-grade classes larger.
Rock Creek’s third-grade classes average 22.8 kids this year. Next year, they are projected to average 27.4. First grade currently averages 25.8 but with the new class will be lowered to 22.1 next year. The principal decided that if the school must increase class sizes it would be better to do it with older students, said Patterson. That means that if third grade grows much more than projected at Rock Creek, some of those kids may be shuttled to another school.
Class sizes in Rock Creek’s behavior support program, RAVES, will also need to grow, Maryanski said, and the school will lose its only computer lab to create more classroom space. The district will rely on the portable netbook computers on carts to accommodate students needing computer access, Patterson said.
At Lake Wilderness, which is now the largest elementary school in the state, enrollment projections indicate a need for two and a half more teachers, but the school only has space for one and a half — and that’s only if it converts the band room to a classroom.
As a result, second-grade classes will increase from an average of 23.3 students to 26.6. The district will investigate possibly moving the Lake Wilderness zero-hour band class to another site.
Cedar River Middle School also is gaining enrollment and needs two more classroom teachers. The district is installing a new double portable there to replace two older ones with rotting or weakened floors, but to create enough space for the new classes, the school will lose a computer lab, leaving one small lab.
The elementaries have reached their legal maximum for additional portables, though the district is seeking permission from the city to go beyond the maximum and add one more portable at Rock Creek.
Patterson said the district is concerned for the future as more houses are being built in Maple Valley than originally projected.
“This is just the beginning,” Patterson said. “What happens when we have no more computer labs to convert or portables to site? That is when the conversation begins at the school board and administrative level about alternative scheduling, such as double-shifting and year-round multi-track.”
Since February, the Post has written a number of stories about the bond failure and long-term proposals to deal with overcrowding. Check the archives, or to read the most recent story, click HERE.
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