The Jefferson City School District is pursuing a solution to address overcrowding in grades kindergarten through eight and expects to bring a bond issue to voters in April 2022.
The district's facilities focus group met May 18 to discuss solutions.
This month, the district began drafting a 15- to 20-year facilities renovation plan that is expected to be complete by August.
In September, district leaders plan to recommend an option to address overcrowding to the Board of Education. They also plan to present a plan for building culture and educational delivery model for the proposed building and the long-term renovation plan.
From October until the April election, the district plans to conduct stakeholder outreach meetings on the selected option. In November, district leaders plan to present the layout of the potential buildings to the Board of Education. The board is expected to vote on ballot language in January, according to the meeting notes provided by the district.
Construction is expected to be complete by fall 2024, Linthacum said.
The district's K-8 buildings have been overcrowded since 2014, according to district officials. Ten out of the 13 schools have trailers, including Belair, Callaway Hills, East, Lawson, Moreau Heights, North, Pioneer Trail and South elementary schools, and Lewis and Clark and Thomas Jefferson middle schools.
The district has been using trailers for 30 years. Superintendent Larry Linthacum has said they can educate students in trailers, but it is not ideal and not part of the long-term plan.
The space needs are also due to more programs that need to be offered such as those addressing student mental health, Linthacum told the News Tribune in January 2020.
The district's enrollment began increasing in 2008, but it has stayed about the same since 2013. The district's average enrollment since 2013 is about 8,824, according to data on DESE's website.
None of the buildings were overcrowded this year because there was a sudden drop in enrollment from the 2019-20 to 2020-21 school year, possibly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Enrollment declined by 564 from the previous year.
Anecdotally, district leaders have noticed an uptick in the number of families who have chosen homeschooling this year and some who may have elected to wait another year to send their student to kindergarten, JC Schools Communications Director Ryan Burns said.
"We will be watching closely to see where enrollment numbers will be this fall to better determine whether this is strictly a COVID-related blip or indicative of a change in enrollment trends," she said.
Options for consideration
The four primary options under consideration are keeping the trailers already in place and adding more as needed, adding another elementary school and middle school, adding two fifth- through sixth-grade centers — which the district previously considered putting on the April 2020 ballot — or adding two fifth- through eighth-grade centers.
Adding a 12th elementary school and third middle school would require a boundary line change and would increase the tax rate, according to notes from the facility focus group meeting.
If the district added two fifth- and sixth-grade buildings, one would be by Thomas Jefferson and one would be by Lewis and Clark. District leaders expect no tax increase with this option.
Elementary schools would serve grades kindergarten through four, and middle schools would serve grades seven through eight. The fifth grade would be an elementary delivery model, and sixth grade would be a hybrid of elementary and middle, according to the meeting notes.
Linthacum has visited nine of the 24 fifth- and sixth-grade buildings in the state, and all looked different, according to the meeting notes. In the districts that have them, "it is clear they were in similar situations" as the JC Schools district and "had to adjust to meet the needs of students," the notes state.
If the district added two fifth- through eighth-grade buildings, they would be traditional fifth- through eighth-grade middle schools. One would be north of the Missouri River and one would be in the Big Horn Drive area, according to the meeting notes. District leaders said this would address spacing concerns but would require a tax increase.
The facilities focus group indicated they do not want to continue using trailers, according to the meeting notes. Members also said any scenario that results in an odd number of middle schools and splitting students up is an issue, according to the meeting notes.
Pros and cons of each option
At its meeting, the facilities focus group listed the pros and cons of each option.
Adding more trailers as needed would be low cost and would allow the district to use resources it already has. Students can also learn effectively in trailers, and it allows flexibility since they can be added or removed as the number of students increases or decreases, according to the meeting notes.
However, the focus group said it's potentially unsafe for students to leave buildings and go to trailers; there is lost learning time because students have to go back and forth to the building for bathroom breaks; heating, cooling and environmental factors such as rain and snow are an issue when students transition to and from the trailers; they're a short-term solution, and the district should not use them forever, according to the notes.
The other options — including adding one elementary and one middle school, adding two fifth- through eighth-grade centers or adding two fifth- through sixth-grade centers — would relieve some pressure for both middle school and elementary buildings.
Other pros of adding one elementary and one middle school are it would allow for similar educational services as the district currently has, and it may allow for programming for high achievers and struggling learners, according to the notes.
However, it would likely require a tax increase; it could possibly increase operating costs since the district would need to hire custodians, food service and teaching staff; it would require boundary line changes; and it could cause complications since students are distributed evenly across the district, and the district does not have consistent numbers in class sizes from year to year, according to the notes.
Adding two fifth- through eighth-grade centers or two fifth- and sixth-grade centers would free two to three classrooms per elementary school (40-80 students per building), according to the notes. It would also offer some ability to equally distribute students within buildings to maintain a low student-teacher ratio.
With the fifth- through eighth-grade centers option, the number of transitions for students would remain the same, boundary lines would not have to change, it would add more of a community feel, and the preliminary report shows no tax increase would be needed, according to the meeting notes.
The cons of the fifth- through eighth-grade centers, according to the meeting notes, are it would require boundary line changes, there is a large span of maturity between fifth and eighth grade so there are concerns about them being together, there would be a potential need to increase the operating levy because the district would need to hire custodians, food service and teaching staff, and land would need to be purchased north of the river and on the west end of town.
Adding two fifth- and sixth-grade centers and converting the middle schools to seventh- and eighth-grade centers would add another transition for students, move fifth-graders out of neighborhood schools sooner, and possibly cause issues with after/before school care for students, according to the meeting notes.
Start and end times also have not been identified for the fifth- and sixth-grade buildings. The committee meeting notes state the committee wants to ensure enrollment numbers justify adding an additional building.
Academic program changes were listed as a pro and a con for the fifth- and sixth-grade and fifth- through eighth-grade centers.