Dealing with enrollment growth at the top of District priorities
During the past two summers, we have added approximately 800 additional students. This level of growth provides us with both challenges and opportunities.
In the short term, the District has installed portables at Dublin Jerome High School and more may be needed before an addition can be constructed. Next year, we expect the portables at both Deer Run and Eli Pinney Elementary Schools to be in use as our District continues to grow. The northwest quadrant of the District is not the only area we are seeing growth. The Thomas Elementary area continues to increase by large numbers of students and Thomas is now our largest elementary school with an enrollment of more than 800 students.
Our long term solution to enrollment growth was formulated last year with the creation of a Master Plan to address our future facilities needs. The Master Plan committee was given the task of peering into the crystal ball in an effort to determine our facilities and land needs over the next decade. During the next 10 years, the District is expected to add approximately 3,000 students. In order to accommodate this enrollment growth, the Master Plan committee recommended the construction of two more elementary schools, a fifth middle school, additions to two of our high schools, and non-traditional high school space.
The majority of these projects could be funded through a no new millage bond issue at some point in time. The District is fortunate enough to have the “mortgage payments” on some of its older buildings rolling off the books during the next few years. Therefore, we will have significant capacity to build additional facilities without raising taxes, if a no new millage bond issue is approved by our voters. The additional cost will come down the road when operating dollars are needed to fund the new schools.
Fortunately, our Board of Education has been forward thinking in its planning. This fall, we opened 22 additional classrooms at six of our elementary schools. This step was taken with funds originally intended to build a new elementary school. By choosing to construct additions instead, we were able to minimize redistricting and delay the fixed costs that come with operating a school.
Below are answers to two of the most frequently asked questions around enrollment growth.
Why not plan further ahead to accommodate enrollment growth?
Enrollment projections are educated guesses regarding student growth and historically our projections have been very accurate. Actual enrollment however, can fluctuate drastically from year to year for a variety of reasons, let alone over the course of several years. We want to be extremely careful when planning for the eventual build-out of our District. We want to avoid any scenarios where future generations may have to consider closing schools. Many of us have observed other districts go through the high emotional cost to a community when schools have to be closed due to lack of enrollment. Installation of portable classrooms and adjustments to schedules are far less painful alternatives than asking a future generation to consolidate school buildings constructed during a period of strong enrollment growth but are no longer needed when the district is finished growing. Additionally, in the fall of 2008 we saw what can happen to housing starts during an economic downturn. It is a prudent course of action to thoughtfully plan for growth, rather than risk the enormous financial and emotional costs of overbuilding. There is still significant vacant land within our District boundaries which stretch north all the way to U.S. 42. It is in this northwest portion of the District, where the Jerome Village subdivision is being constructed and new homes seem to be popping out of the ground every week. More than 18 housing projects are currently under construction or in development within our boundaries.
Why doesn’t the District do something to control enrollment growth?
Community residents often ask, why doesn’t the district do something to control the growth of the community? Simply put, growth control is not a function of a school district. By law, Dublin City Schools does not have any authority to control community growth. We do not zone properties and we do not approve or deny land use requests. We are able to institute policies and practices such as not accepting open enrollment students from other districts and using a private investigative firm to look into any issues of individuals claiming to live within the District’s boundaries, but who actually live elsewhere. Big picture however, the District cannot and does not control community growth.