Four Schools Over Capacity
Figures Show Space Crunch Getting Worse For Some
Posted: October 4, 2012
Skyline Middle School students head toward the buses after the bell rings on Wednesday. The most recent enrollment figures for Harrisonburg City Schools are up nearly 4 percent compared to September 2011. Some schools have already exceeded capacity, while others are on track to outgrow their space within a few years. Space issues led to the 2008 opening of Skyline Middle and Smithland Elementary schools. (Photo by Nikki Fox / DN-R)
End-of-September enrollment for all students attending city schools — prekindergarten through 12th grade — is 5,221, up nearly 4 percent, or 198 more students, compared to September 2011.
Because the division’s growing enrollment — largely occurring at the elementary level — hasn’t slowed this year, some schools already have exceeded capacity, while others are on track to outgrow existing space within a few years.
Based on capacity numbers established by a 2011 space study conducted by Moseley Architects and the division’s September enrollment figures, three of the city’s elementary schools — Keister, Smithland and Waterman — and Thomas Harrison Middle School are over “effective capacity.”
In another year, Harrisonburg High School can be added to the list, according to a projection presented to the Harrisonburg City School Board at its meeting Tuesday night. Skyline Middle School “is in great shape,” according to Superintendent Scott Kizner, while Spotswood and Stone Spring elementary schools are under capacity by 38 and 54 students, respectively.
Effective capacity is defined as how many students a school’s classrooms and common areas can comfortably accommodate.
“Effective capacity gives you a framework to say after a certain number of kids in your building, you’re beginning to lose academic and operational efficiency,” Kizner said.
Kizner told the board he would like to see an “aggressive timeline” adopted to reduce crowding in the division.
Redistricting or redirecting students, dropping programs, building a new school or adding onto existing schools are among the board’s options.
“The only option I don’t think they have is not to do anything,” Kizner said.
Making the challenge more pertinent is that the school system must maintain certain student-teacher ratios or risk losing state funding.
Harrisonburg City Schools receives funding at the kindergarten- through third-grade level by meeting the Virginia Department of Education’s class-size reduction requirements, which are based on the number of students who receive free- and reduced-priced lunch.
On average, 68 percent of the division’s students are defined as economically disadvantaged.
“Places like Harrisonburg have greater restrictions,” Kizner said. “Each year, our average class size has increased.”
Among the city’s elementary schools, average class sizes across grade levels went from 17.2 in 2008 to 19 in 2012.
According to Kizner, although the board does have decisions to make, growing enrollment is not a negative for the system.
“We just need to acknowledge this is not a bad thing. Our school system is growing, which means more people want to be in the Harrisonburg area,” he said.
Rockingham County Schools is experiencing the opposite trend in enrollment.
The school division’s end-of-September enrollment dropped to 11,249 students, down from 11,314 students in 2011 and 11,404 students in 2010.
Doug Alderfer, assistant superintendent of administration for Rockingham County Schools, said the change in enrollment won’t have any impact for the division’s students, staffing or funding.
“It’s not a significant drop, in the relative spectrum of things,” Alderfer said. “We’re in good shape. We feel comfortable with where we are as far as staffing goes.”
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or firstname.lastname@example.org