As Jefferson City School District leaders explore several options to address overcrowding, school board candidates in the April 6 election are awaiting more information and community feedback before determining the best solution.
JC Schools leaders expect to bring a bond issue to the school board and voters in April 2022 to address overcrowding in grades K-8. The district's K-8 buildings have been overcrowded since 2014, and 11 of 15 schools use trailers.
They are assessing district needs and exploring several options, including two fifth- and sixth-grade centers — which the district previously considered putting on the April 2020 ballot — two fifth- through eighth-grade centers or another elementary school and middle school.
They will give a presentation at the April 12 board meeting on the pros and cons and anticipated costs of the different options and how they tie into the district's strategic plan and long-range facilities plan.
Jefferson City Board of Education incumbents Ken Enloe and Lindsey Rowden, as well as challenger Ian Shadrick, are vying for the two available seats on the April 6 ballot.
One aspect to consider with the fifth- and sixth-grade centers is recess, Rowden said.
"I still think that things like recess are really important for those younger kids, so playgrounds will need to be considered as well," she said.
Enloe said there are pros and cons to each option.
"There are a lot of things for us to consider and weigh, and I think we've just got to go through and really evaluate all those options," he said.
While there may be benefits to another elementary and middle school, Enloe said, it would require the district to redraw boundary lines for all schools in the district.
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Enloe and Shadrick both said the fifth- and sixth-grade centers make sense financially, but they are concerned about the extra transition it would cause for middle school students.
Instead of just transitioning from elementary to middle school before going to high school, students would transition from elementary school to the fifth- and sixth-grade center to a seventh- and eighth-grade center.
Shadrick said the fifth- and sixth-grade centers may be the best option in some ways, but he would like to consider all options.
"Looking realistically, we've got to look at the potential bond issue and the community buy-in there, but I think the other side of that is what are families' ideas on that? What are their thoughts as to the transition there?" he said.
The fifth- and sixth-grade centers could be built on district-owned land near Thomas Jefferson and Lewis and Clark middle schools. The district wouldn't need to hire staff for these buildings because current staff would move into them.
The district can borrow $80 million for new buildings without raising the tax rate, Chief Financial and Operating Officer Jason Hoffman said. However, adding another elementary and middle school would likely raise the tax rate because the district would need to hire more staff.
The financial impact is important, Enloe said, but looking at what's best for students and staff overall is the most important aspect to consider.
"My commitment I made when I ran for board and as I'm a candidate again is I want to absolutely do what's best for our students — all of our students districtwide," he said. "If I'm re-elected, I'm committed to the fact that we're going to have to make some hard decisions."
Rowden said it's important to ensure the community is informed about whatever option the board lands on.
"Whatever option or route we decide to go, we need to really make sure that our community understands which way we're going and why so that everybody's well informed and doesn't necessarily get stuck on an idea that we maybe had 10 or 15 years ago that just didn't come to fruition," she said.
Since the needs of our community can constantly change, Rowden said, it's important to keep evaluating the options and needs.
"That's kind of our goal going forward with our long-range plan is to constantly keep re-evaluating," she said.
One of the most important aspects to consider, she said, is to consider which option fits the needs of our community now and will "fit the needs of our growing community in the years to come so that we've got a little bit of room to grow."
"Strong schools build strong communities, so we need the community's support to keep moving forward to build these strong schools," Rowden during a virtual candidate forum hosted by the News Tribune on Tuesday.
Shadrick said he wants to ensure the community has full buy-in and understands the process before the board lands on a decision.
"I think it's important that the community as a whole understands what that impact has on the long-term goals with those students and their overall success throughout education," he said during the forum.
The district should receive community feedback "through any means necessary," he said, such as focus groups, open forums, and taking feedback from groups the district hasn't reached out to in the past or "groups that maybe feel unheard."
"It's got to be more than just district families to really support that and understand why that's necessary," he said.
He said it's important to ensure the district addresses "overcrowding at all levels so it doesn't equate to other issues down the road."
Enloe, who was a co-chair on the Outreach Committee for the J+C bond campaign to build a new high school and renovate the existing high school, said it's important for the board to stand by its decision and advocate for it after determining the best solution.
"There's going to need to be a process of listening to all our stakeholders, get as much input as we can, and then ultimately make the best decision as possible and be able to support it," he said.
This article was edited at 11:30 a.m. March 24, 2021, to clarify Ken Enloe's role in the J+C bond campaign.