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Bayfield school board ponders enrollment
2/19/2010 By: By Carole McWilliams
Will a bad economy stop growth in Bayfield school enrollment?
School directors mulled that question at a special meeting Monday morning.
Total enrollment has grown almost 100 students since the 2006-’07 school year, with most of that in the elementary grades. The question is, will that continue?
Board President Barb Wickman cited several facilities studies done for the district over the past 10 years by Durango architect R. Michael Bell. His professional opinion was that renovating the old mid school west building on South Street would not be worth the $600,000 cost.
Wickman said that’s compared to several million dollars to build a new school. Last year the district added two modular buildings, two classrooms each, to cover kindergarten and first grade classes that have been moved down from the elementary school to relieve crowding there.
Each modular cost $200,000, making the cost per classroom $100,000. The estimate to refurbish the west building is about the same per classroom, Wickman said.
Director Bill Faust speculated that the refurbishing cost could be closer to $1 million if it includes fixing a serious roof leak where an addition was put on the west building in the 1980s.
Director Don Mooney commented, “If it’s essentially a decent building, that seems to be the way to go.” But what about the kitchen and the gym, he asked.
Those could push the cost to $1.5 million, Wickman suggested.
Mooney said, “It depends on whether we’ll continue to grow, as the recession settles into the area. If this (growth) sustains itself, we clearly need significant space.”
Superintendent Dean Hill advised, “If growth continues as it has, this won’t be adequate in five years. Our projection is we would need 20 classrooms.”
As to whether the growth rate will continue, director Scott Kujath said, “When I first got on the board, the growth projection was five students a year.”
Finance Director Amy Lyons said total enrollment was 1,288 in 2006-’07. This school year it’s 1,384.
“I show over 10 years at the elementary a 38 percent increase,” Lyons said. Since 2000, total enrollment growth has been 29 percent, she said.
Hill said, “If you go there (BES) during the day, it’s packed… We have no clue whether growth will continue.” But he added, “At the elementary, almost every family I saw had three or four younger kids in tow.”
Directors noted the influx in the elementary grades will likely become an influx at the mid school and then the high school.
Wickman said there are a few spaces at the elementary school that could become classrooms. Hill said there are no additional spaces at the middle or high schools to convert to classrooms.
The middle school campus doesn’t have much room for an addition or modulars, Wickman and Lyons said.
Where there is space, modulars are an option with uncertainty about continued growth, Wickman said, noting that with those is the need for more cafeteria and gym space.
“We are getting to the point where we need other facilities,” she said.
Lyons said the district currently has bonding capacity of $9.5 million without raising taxes. But it would require voter approval.
Board members debated the prospects for that.
Mooney noted the prospect of continuing state funding cuts for public schools.
Hill said the per pupil funding cut will be at least 7.5 percent for the next school year, and 10 percent the year after. He and Lyons disagreed on whether the 10 percent will include the 7.5 percent or be in addition to it.
Lyons said that even if voters would approve a bond issue, “I don’t know how we could operate a new school without passing a mill levy over-ride to operate it.”
Mooney said, “Everything seems to start with the elementary (school) and go up from there. The solution seems to be another building to move grades back and forth.”
Possibilities include moving sixth graders to BES if space can be created there by moving second graders to the South Street campus, or moving eighth graders to a high school addition.
“Ultimately the mid school has to go to two grades,” Mooney said.
Hill said, “I don’t see how we can keep from building a middle school. Use the elementary as K-3 and the current mid school as 4-5.”
District administrators want to apply for a state BEST (Building Excellent Schools Act) grant, a $190 million pool of funding for capital construction. Lyons said it was created to settle a lawsuit from districts that don’t have the assessed valuation/ bonding capacity to fix or replace dilapidated schools.
Schools with health and safety issues have the highest priority, she said. Mold at the old BMS west building is a possible concern because of the roof leak. Radon and asbestos problems have been mitigated, Faust said.
Over-crowding is the second priority for BEST funding, Lyons said. Poorer school districts get a larger state match on project funding.
This is a separate pot of money that’s supposed to be guarded from state per-pupil funding cuts, Lyons said.
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