1.20.15: Elementary school crowding
1.20.15: Elementary school crowding
Posted on 12/17/2014

District explores moving some sixth graders to junior highs


The school board will continue discussion and possibly act in January on options to relieve crowding in schools, including a staff proposal to move sixth graders at some of the most heavily impacted schools to junior high schools with available space.


The board will address crowding in schools at its regular board meetings on January 5 and 20, with possible action to follow on January 20. The board will also review options to address growth at its January 15 board study session.


The meetings on January 5 and 20 begin at 6 p.m. at Ferrucci Junior High, 3213 Wildwood Park Drive, Puyallup. The study session starts at 8:30 a.m. on January 15 at the school district’s Education Service Center, 302 Second St. S.E., Puyallup.


The public is invited to email comments and questions about this issue to: growthfeedback@puyallup.k12.wa.us.


Elementary schools that would be included in the sixth-grade moves are those that are most affected by high enrollment and are projected to continue to grow in subsequent years.


The proposed moves, which would begin in fall 2015, are intended to provide relief to elementary schools that have reached what Chief Operations Officer Rudy Fyles calls the “breaking point.”


In some cases, schools are serving several hundred students beyond the number they were built to serve. This number is commonly referred to as a school’s “permanent building capacity.”


Zeiger Elementary, for example, is serving 830 students this fall in a school built for 550 children. This school on South Hill has more temporary classrooms (12) on its campus than any of the district’s other 20 elementary schools.


Just over a mile away, Woodland Elementary serves nearly 700 students in a school also built for 550.


“We are approaching a crisis, especially at the elementary level, and I don’t use that term lightly,” Fyles said.


And more students are on the way.


Enrollment growth projections


Enrollment projections call for continued surging growth throughout the district over the next decade, with an additional 1,600 students expected to arrive in Puyallup schools in the next five years. Most of this growth — 1,050 children — is projected at the elementary level.


For the first time in many years, projections also call for significant enrollment growth on North Hill, which will be impacted by new homes built in Edgewood and neighboring Fife.


“We have little or no space,” Fyles said. “We need about 10 more classrooms every year for the next five years districtwide to house students in our hardest hit schools, especially at the elementary level.”


With more than 22,250 students in 32 schools, the Puyallup School District is the second largest district in Pierce County and the eighth largest in the state.


Superintendent Tim Yeomans told the board in December that the district experienced a year’s worth of enrollment growth in the first month of this school year alone.


“We have far exceeded our built capacity,” Yeomans said. “This issue needs immediate attention, and our options are somewhat limited in how we can address it.”


Growing pains


All available spaces within crowded schools, including areas formerly used as small workrooms, gym stages, or meeting places for educational support specialists, have been converted to teaching spaces to try and ease burgeoning enrollment, Fyles said.


Many of the district’s 21 elementary schools have also responded to growth over the past decade by adding temporary portable classrooms; however, most have run out of room on their campuses to add more of the detached units.


Puyallup has among the most of these temporary classrooms and support spaces (232) compared to all school districts statewide.


A temporary classroom only provides half of the space necessary to meet educational needs, Fyles said. Students who attend classes in the detached units must still come into the permanent school building to use the gym, library, restrooms, and cafeteria, see the school counselor and nurse, and attend school assemblies.


Because only a handful of elementary schools have cafeterias, most students in kindergarten through grade six, no matter what the weather, carry their lunches from the main school building to temporary portable classrooms.


Woodland Elementary Principal Heather McMullen said lack of space is especially acute this year. For the first time in many years, music classes are held in a makeshift walled-off room formerly used as the stage.


It’s also typical, she said, to have support staff moved to multiple locations before finding an available space to serve students. On a recent afternoon this fall, an audiologist moved twice — first from the library to the computer lab, and again from the computer lab to the assistant principal’s office, before finding a quiet place to test students’ hearing.


Parents also complain about long lines of cars that snake through the Woodland Elementary parking lot and onto the adjacent 112th Street East as they pick up students at the end of the school day.


While the traffic problem in the parking lot has been ongoing for years, it is exacerbated by the surging enrollment.


Some arrive at school as much as an hour ahead of dismissal to have their cars near the front of the student pickup line, McMullen said.


“I love my daughter’s teacher and staff, but the parking is really hard,” said parent Sylvia Baugher. “You can’t park in the lot and expect to get out with the line of cars behind you waiting to pick up students.”


The impact of growth is also evident at Zeiger Elementary. A Young Scholars program for students in kindergarten through grade two, for example, has been forced to meet this fall in the principal’s office because of a lack of meeting space anywhere else, said Principal Cari Ake.


Fyles said, “There are no good options here. We have little or no space. It’s not like we haven’t known and communicated with our community that this day was coming. Regrettably, we have had a series of four failed school bond issues.”


Board considers school bond


It will be 11 years next month (February 2015) since Puyallup School District voters last approved a school bond, which pays for construction projects such as new schools and other capital improvements.


Voters rejected two proposed school bond measures in 2007, one in 2009, and another in 2013.


School bonds are not to be confused with school levies. Last February voters approved two school levies that addressed capital maintenance items like roof repairs and replacements, expansion of full-day kindergarten, building system improvements, and technology upgrades.


The school board has had discussions in recent months about the possibility of returning to voters with a school bond proposal as early as November 2015.


Last year it commissioned a 27-member group of citizens, students, and educators, known as the

Citizens Bond Planning Committee, to update a 2012 Citizens Facilities Advisory Committee report. The plan outlines 12 years of projected facility and technology needs districtwide, beginning in 2014.


The committee is also charged with identifying a list of needs, divided into three four-year increments, with the most pressing facility needs in the first four years (2014-2018).


Fyles recently reminded committee members that even if the school board submitted a school bond to voters and it was approved in 2015 or 2016, it would take three years (until 2019), for example, to build and open an elementary school.


“Naturally, we need to house those students and provide them with a great education in the meantime,” Fyles said. “The district is developing a plan to provide classrooms for those kids now.”


Moving elementary students to schools where space is available isn’t a new idea in the Puyallup School District. Pope Elementary sixth graders were moved to the Emerald Ridge High School campus from 2005-2007, for example, to ease crowding until Edgerton Elementary opened.


During those same years, Firgrove Elementary moved all of its sixth graders and all but one of its fifth-grade classes into temporary classrooms on the Ballou Junior High campus.


Proposal to move some sixth graders to junior highs


Last month, staff presented and the board discussed a three-year plan, using a phased-in approach to move sixth graders at crowded elementary schools into available space at the junior highs.


Sixth graders would be moved at the most heavily impacted schools first and followed by other schools as their enrollment also grows.


The plan would affect Sunrise, Woodland, and Zeiger elementary students entering sixth grade in September 2015. Sunrise Elementary sixth graders would attend Ferrucci Junior High, Woodland Elementary students would attend Aylen Junior High, and Zeiger Elementary sixth graders would attend Stahl Junior High.


Woodland and Zeiger elementary students live in neighborhoods where they typically would attend Ballou Junior High; however, that school building has also run out of room, Fyles said.


While details such as costs and transportation are still being worked out, the initial proposal shared at the December 1 board meeting would be to have the Woodland and Zeiger elementary students spend their sixth-grade year at Aylen or Stahl junior high schools, respectively and then return to Ballou Junior High for grades seven through nine, Fyles said.


The following year (2016-17), Shaw Road Elementary sixth graders would move to Ferrucci Junior High, with three more schools — Edgerton, Northwood, and Mt. View elementary schools — moving sixth graders to junior high schools in the 2017-18 school year.


Edgerton Elementary would send its sixth graders to Glacier View Junior High, and Northwood and Mt. View elementary school students would attend sixth grade at Edgemont Junior High.


Newly elected school board President Pat Donovan shared some concern at last month’s board meeting about moving students twice in the critical transition years from elementary to junior high school.


“We share that stress with you,” Fyles said. “But the reality is we have run out of room in our schools.”