En­roll­ment num­bers grow­ing

Some Ben­tonville schools will be near or above ca­pac­ity

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DAVE PEROZEK

BEN­TONVILLE — School Dis­trict of­fi­cials don’t in­tend to change at­ten­dance zone bound­aries for the 2017-18 school year, de­spite pro­jec­tions show­ing a few el­e­men­tary schools will be near or above ca­pac­ity.

Tanya Sharp, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of stu­dent ser­vices, pre­sented en­roll­ment pro­jec­tions for each build­ing at Mon­day’s board meet­ing.

The pro­jec­tions didn’t fore­cast en­roll­ment growth. Sharp’s pre­sen­ta­tion showed what en­roll­ment would look like by ad­vanc­ing stu­dents one grade level, sub­tract­ing the se­nior class and as­sum­ing ca­pac­ity at the kinder­garten level will be met — a to­tal of 1,460 stu­dents.

Elm Tree El­e­men­tary School is pro­jected to be over ca­pac­ity by about 20 stu­dents when the school year be­gins. Other ar­eas of con­cern in­clude Cen­tral Park El­e­men­tary School, which is pro­jected to be at 96 per­cent of ca­pac­ity, and Mary Mae Jones El­e­men­tary School, pro­jected to be at 99 per­cent.

Sugar Creek El­e­men­tary School, mean­while, is pro­jected to be at 76 per­cent, the low­est of the 11 el­e­men­tary schools. Sugar Creek draws some of its stu­dents from the down­town area, and “younger fam­i­lies are mov­ing out of that area,” Sharp said.

The dis­trict con­sid­ered tweak­ing at­ten­dance zones for next school year, but opted to wait, Sharp said.

“Know­ing we’re go­ing to have an el­e­men­tary school open­ing in 2019, we feel like our rec­om­men­da­tion should be to wait. We want to move kids as few times as pos­si­ble,” she said.

The dis­trict will come back to the board with a rec­om­men­da­tion to re­zone for the 2018-19 school year that

would in­clude a zone for the 12th el­e­men­tary school, which is part of a larger fa­cil­ity plan that de­pends on vot­ers’ approval this year of a 1.9-mill tax in­crease.

Set­ting new zones a year in ad­vance of a school open­ing is sim­i­lar to what the board did last year, when it in­cluded zones for Osage Creek El­e­men­tary School and Creek­side Mid­dle School as part of a re­zon­ing plan. Both of those schools are ex­pected to open this fall. El­e­men­tary stu­dents zoned for Osage Creek and mid­dle stu­dents zoned for Creek­side are now spread out among other dis­trict schools.

Travis Riggs, board pres­i­dent, said he’s glad the dis­trict isn’t chang­ing at­ten­dance zones for next school year, be­cause re­zon­ing is “painful” for every­one. At the same time, he said, that means some schools will bear more stress than oth­ers in the short term.

“So par­ents need to un­der­stand, no re­zon­ing comes at some cost, some price,” Riggs said. “You know, it’s not al­ways easy.”

The five mid­dle schools and two high schools are all ex­pected to be well be­low ca­pac­ity next school year. At the ju­nior high level, the big­gest con­cern is at Ful­bright Ju­nior High School, which will be at 90 per­cent of its 1,000-stu­dent ca­pac­ity.

The dis­trict con­sid­ers a school’s ca­pac­ity to be the max­i­mum num­ber of stu­dents the school can en­roll while us­ing all of its space as it was de­signed to be used. Schools can go above ca­pac­ity by get­ting cre­ative with the use of its space.

Wil­low­brook El­e­men­tary School, for ex­am­ple, had an en­roll­ment of 936 as of last month. Its ca­pac­ity is 853, ac­cord­ing to a dis­trict doc­u­ment. Wil­low­brook is hold­ing 265 of those stu­dents zoned for Osage Creek, so its en­roll­ment is pro­jected to drop be­low ca­pac­ity next school year.

A to­tal of 128 stu­dents at the el­e­men­tary level are be­ing “over­flowed” from the school for which they’re zoned to another school. The over­flow is be­cause of new fam­i­lies that have moved into the dis­trict since last sum­mer and those who chose to move into a dif­fer­ent zone, Sharp said.

More than 700 stu­dents were im­pacted by over­flow last year. The School Board adopted new at­ten­dance zones at the el­e­men­tary and mid­dle lev­els for this school year that re­duced over­flow.

Wil­lie Cowgur, board vice pres­i­dent, asked Sharp what the over­flow num­ber will be next school year. Sharp said it should go down “sig­nif­i­cantly” with the open­ing of Osage Creek El­e­men­tary and Creek­side Mid­dle schools.

The dis­trict’s en­roll­ment grew about 3.4 per­cent this school year over last school year. Of­fi­cials ten­ta­tively are ex­pect­ing growth of 3.5 per­cent next school year, which would in­crease en­roll­ment to more than 17,000.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/JA­SON IVESTER

Kate Mar­ley, fourth-grader, and other stu­dents tran­si­tion be­tween lunch and classes Thurs­day at Elm Tree El­e­men­tary School in Ben­tonville. Elm Tree is pro­jected to be over ca­pac­ity by about 20 stu­dents when the next school year be­gins.

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