Friday, June 10, 2011

District considering new elementary school

Enrollment trends point to future classroom crowding


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County School District Business Manager Mike Chatterton answers questions from Trustee Kathryn Graves at a school board workshop Tuesday evening regarding a proposed $76.2 million budget for the coming school year. Although the meeting was well-advertised, only four members of the public attended the three-hour session. Photo by David N. Seelig

As enrollment continues to grow in the Blaine County School District, administrators are eyeing the possibility of having to build a new elementary school within the next few years.

Another option, according to district Business Manager Mike Chatterton, is to increase class size, an option that typically hasn't set well with parents.

The possibility of needing a new elementary school was discussed at a "budget workshop" held Wednesday evening at the district office. Prior to a detailed presentation to the school board and members of the public regarding a proposed $76.2 million budget for the 2011-12 school year, Chatterton discussed enrollment trends and options for serving an increasing number of students in the district.

According to Chatterton, the district is experiencing a 2.5 percent annual average growth in its student population.

District Superintendent Lonnie Barber said that with the economic recession, many people expected enrollment to decline or stay level, but such has not been the case.

"We keep hearing we're going to lose enrollment, but it's not materializing yet," Chatterton said.

Instead, the district is showing steady growth.

The district showed enrollment for the 2008-09 school year at 3,184 students. The population grew to 3,331 students for the 2009-10 school year and to 3,377 for the current year, 2010-11.

Chatterton said he's anticipating even larger growth for the 2011-12 school year, estimating a student population of 3,563.

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The largest student increases are being realized in the district's elementary schools, most of which would be over 100 percent capacity, if the current trend continues, by the 2014-15 school year.

Chatterton said capacity is based on an average of 22 students per classroom. Without a new elementary school, he said, the only option would be to increase class size.

If the school board ultimately approves building a new school, Chatterton said, a new facility could be needed as early as 2013 or 2014.

The school district already has Blaine County voter approval to build a new school. Nearly $14 million was allocated for a new elementary school as part of a 10-year, $59.8 million plant facilities levy approved by voters in 2009.

The district isn't currently pursuing land acquisition to build a new school, nor has it determined where a new school might be built. However, the district has saved about $2.3 million from Idaho Land/Lottery funding, a share of money the district receives from lottery ticket sales in the state.

Even in today's market, Barber said, the Land/Lottery money wouldn't likely be enough to buy the property needed for a new school. He said the district isn't actively seeking to purchase property right now, but is keeping an eye on the market.

Budget workshop

All five members of the district board of trustees attended Wednesday's budget workshop, as did Trustees-elect Don Nurge and Shawn Bennion, who will, respectively, replace Trustees Julie Dahlgren and Daniel Parke in July.

Though the meeting was well-advertised, only four members of the public attended.

The meeting lasted more than three hours, with Chatterton providing detailed information about the proposed budget for the coming school year.

The proposed budget would allocate nearly $32 million to salaries, $12.5 million to employee benefits and almost $17 million to new construction and facility improvements.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com

Budget hearing

The Blaine County School District board of trustees will hold its annual budget hearing on Tuesday, June 14. The hearing is being held in conjunction with the board's regular June meeting and is listed as the first item on the agenda. After public comments, the board will consider approval of a $76.2 million budget for fiscal 2012, which starts July 1. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office at 118 W. Bullion St. in Hailey.

In other business, the board will consider a proposal to establish a daycare center at the Community Campus for teenage parents who attend either Wood River High School or Silver Creek High School. The board will also consider adoption of new math textbooks and changes to the Dual Immersion, two-language program.

District Safety Director Scott Manning will provide information on possible new access points at the district's high schools, security upgrades that were approved for funding in a $59.8 million plant facilities levy approved by Blaine County voters in 2009.

The complete meeting agenda is available at the district website at www.blaineschools.org.




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