Why All The Extra Capacity
By Alex Saitta
February 7, 2016
At the last school board meeting we were given a presentation noting all the extra capacity in our schools. The argument was made there is too much extra capacity, it is costly and one or more schools need to be closed. That prompted me to give a speech on this, then write a letter to the editor and put together this write-up. This is generally what I said.
At the start of the school district’s building program there were 110 portable classrooms. Everyone was tired of looking at portables and hearing stories of teachers with their classrooms on carts going from portable to portable because they didn’t have their own classroom.
There was a fear with all the money being spent, no one wanted to see portables cropping up in just a few years. So the district administration and school board set out to make sure there wouldn’t be a need for portables for another 20 years. So by design, a ton of extra capacity was added to the schools.
Looking back at my notes of one meeting in 2007, Herb Cooper said all the proposed growth rates were too low and he specifically said Daniel High’s growth rate of 25% was way too low. Dr. Cooper suggested a capacity of 1600 for the new Daniel High. That worked out to adding 55% capacity above the current enrollment.
Oscar Thorsland spoke and said Liberty's proposed growth rate of 20% was too low, and he suggested a capacity of 1,000 students or 47% above the current enrollment. Shirley Jones also spoke in favor of this.
It was an all at once building program and no one knew where the capacity would be most needed in the decade or two to come, so lots of capacity was added throughout.
Some of the schools they now cite with too much extra space, had a lot of space added to them during the building program. For instance, Ben Hagood added 7,000 square feet, Holly Springs 10,000 sqf, Ambler 12,000 sqf and AR Lewis 11,000 sqf, McKissick 25,000 sqf and Central 13,000 sqf was added. A total of 800,000 square feet was added district wide or a 38% increase.
That Was Then…
The old district administration is gone and more than half of the old board as well. Naturally, those looking at the figures today, see all this extra capacity and ask why? Now there is an effort to wring out some of that extra capacity that was recently added.
Millions of dollars were spent to add these classrooms and extra capacity, so it makes little sense to spend millions more trying to wring it out. It would be like one boss paying someone to dig a hole and then the new boss paying someone to fill the hole back in.
I was thinking, this is why we get a new reading program/ initiative every two or three years. We get a new state Superintendent, the district's administration changes or the Governor gets an idea, and the current plan is dumped and more money is spent going in yet another new direction.
More Than Just Closing A School:
To close a school is not a simple operations decision like re-writing policy or passing an annual calendar. Closing Ben Hagood or any school will uproot a significant part of peoples’ lives. You close a school in only a disastrous and unfortunate situation and this is not one of those. The board and administration should manage the extra capacity the previous board built in, knowing if it is ever needed, it will be there.
It Can Be Done:
Finally, in 2011, 2012 and 2013 the financial situation was bad, and we didn’t have to close schools then. The financial situation has improved significantly and the school district is experiencing its strongest revenue growth since 2008. The money is there to keep all schools operating if it is just managed wisely.