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July 29, 2015

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Education:

Back to year-round schools? District weighs options for crowded southwest valley campuses

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Paul Takahashi

Southwest valley parents look over a school attendance zone map at Sierra Vista High School on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. The Clark County School District held a town hall-style meeting to discuss solutions to school overcrowding, including major rezoning and reverting to an year-round schedule.

The Clark County School District hosted a town hall-style meeting Monday night to discuss possible solutions to school overcrowding, including major rezoning, moving to double-sessions and reverting to a year-round calendar.

Although school enrollment has stabilized in the wake of the recession, pockets of population growth exists, especially in the Mountain's Edge and Rhodes Ranch communities. Currently, five southwest valley elementary schools — designed for about 800 students — have enrollments over 1,000 students.

And the problem isn't going away soon. District officials estimate an additional 1,000 students to attend southwest valley elementary schools next school year. That could mean more packed classrooms, hallways and lunchrooms and even more congestion at school drop-offs and pickups.

"A decision (on a solution to school overcrowding) has to be made," said School Board member Carolyn Edwards. "We can't maintain the status quo."

About 250 parents and community members packed the gymnasium of Sierra Vista High School to listen to the district's potential options to alleviate classroom overcrowding:

• Eliminate or relocate select programs, such as Title I programs and full-day kindergarten.

• Create satellite campuses to house fifth-graders from overcrowded elementary schools.

• Revert to a year-round calendar at the most overcrowded schools, such as Batterman, Forbuss, Reedom, Tanaka and Wright.

• Implement double sessions at schools with 1,200 or more students.

• Keep the current nine-month calendar and attendance boundaries, but continue adding more portable classrooms.

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About 250 parents packed the Sierra Vista High School gym on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, for the Clark County School District's town hall meeting to address school overcrowding. Possible solutions include major rezoning and switching to a year-round calendar.

• Rezone attendance boundaries districtwide.

• Construct "portable" schools.

The School District had town hall participants fill out a seven-question survey, asking parents to rank their choices among the district's solutions. An online survey can be filled out here until 2 p.m. Tuesday.

The School Board is expected to vote on a solution during Wednesday's meeting after reviewing the survey results. The board is moving swiftly on these solutions, officials said, because schools and families will need time to prepare for possible major changes, such as rezoning or constructing "portable" schools in time for the new school year.

District officials had hoped for the passage of its tax initiative in November, which would have funded two new elementary schools in the southwest valley. However, voters overwhelmingly rejected ballot question 2, forcing district officials to look at creative ways to address school overcrowding.

"This is a very, very serious conversation we need to have because (the School Board) needs to make a very, very tough decision," Edwards said.

However, some parents attending the meeting said they felt the district was rushing a decision that would impact their families' lives for the next four to five years. Other parents were concerned about their children being uprooted from the school communities.

"You're asking us to make a rash decision," said Cassie Goff, a Forbuss parent. "Psychologically, not only does this impact parents but our children."

Others questioned the district's proposals to shuffle students around. Some argued that schools have been able to manage overcrowded campuses so far.

Reedom kindergarten teacher Erin Bedich pointed out her school maintained its four-star ranking despite having more than 1,000 students on campus.

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Forbuss Elementary School first-grader Jadyn Garcia gives feedback on the Clark County School District's proposed solutions to school overcrowding on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013. The School District is considering major rezoning and reverting to a year-round calendar to alleviate its crowded classrooms.

"If our school is working well, why not keep it that way?" she said. "I think we're such a community school."

District officials said they understand families' concerns and assured parents that the district would do its best to choose a solution that would impact the least number of students.

However, with schools bursting at the seams and students continuing to stream in, the district may be forced to relocate some students simply because schools don't have enough space, said Joyce Halderman, the district's associate superintendent of government and community relations.

"Unfortunately, rezoning is a fact of life in a community that continues to grow," she said.

Sarah Garcia listened to the district's proposed solutions with her 6-year-old daughter Jadyn, a first-grader at Forbuss. The Rhodes Ranch residents were concerned they may be bussed out of their community to attend another school.

It could happen. Forbuss was designed to hold about 800 students. In September, Forbuss' student enrollment was about 1,200 students. Potentially hundreds of new students are expected to enroll at Forbuss this fall.

For the Garcias however, concerns about school overcrowding were outweighed by the growing anxiety of being rezoned out of their neighborhood school.

"I feel like Forbuss has overcrowding under control. They run it well despite their situation," Sarah Garcia said. "I don't love the portable situation, but I'll take that. I'll even take the year-round schedule. But I want to do whatever in my power to keep (Jadyn) there."

Jadyn agreed. The Forbuss first-grader scrawled out a message for district officials on a notecard during Monday's town hall meeting.

"Please keep the Rhodes Ranch students in Forbuss," Jadyn wrote. "I love Forbuss so, so much and I hope to stay in Forbuss. That's all I'm going to say."

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