High School Capacity
by Alex Saitta
November 11, 2007
Tuesday, November 6 the school board discussed and voted on the capacity additions for each high school. This was the first informative public discussion on the building plan since it was approved a year ago. It was a good meeting.
District Office's Recommendation:
The District Office (the DO) proposed the following: Daniel now has 1033 students and the DO proposed building the new high school with a capacity of 1291 or a 25% hike.
Liberty High has 678 students, and the DO proposed building the new high school with a capacity of 814 or a 20% hike.
Easley has 1654, and the DOís proposal added 20% to 1985 students.
Pickens High as 1482, and the proposal added 5% to 1556.
Some Of What Board Members Said:
Herb Cooper spoke and said all the growth rates were too low and specifically said Daniel's growth rate of 25% was way too low, even though the DO proposed it have the most extra capacity on a percentage basis.
Dr. Cooper suggested a capacity of 1600 for the new Daniel High. That worked out to adding 55% capacity above the current enrollment. His logic was Clemson Elementary (one of Daniel's feeder schools) had growth of 27% the past 7 years.
Oscar Thorsland spoke and said Liberty's 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.
Jim Shelton spoke and I can't remember exactly what he said, but he brought up the idea of high growth in Dacusville and how building a high school should be considered at some point. I can't remember who said it, but the prospect of building a Dacusville High School was the reason given for growing Pickens High only 5%.
Dr. Brice made a motion to grow all four high schools between 20% and 25%, and letting the District Office decide what was best for each individual school. I seconded his motion, and let me explain why.
Why I Agreed With Dr. Brice:
First, we were given the student enrollment growth rates in each school and attendance area for the past 14 years. The Daniel area is growing only 0.7% a year. Growing Daniel High by 54%, as Mr. Cooper suggested, was excessive. Given the enrollment growth rate of 0.7%, it would take 77 years to fill up the new Daniel High if we built it 54% above current enrollment. The school will be obsolete and torn down before it becomes full.
While Dr. Cooper touted the strong growth of Clemson Elementary (+27%), he wanted to ignore the other two feeder elementary schools in the Daniel area are in decline. Six Mileís enrollment has fallen 14% the past seven years, and Centralís is down 5%. I challenged him on that, because he was cherry picking the data as Jim Shelton later said. Dr. Cooper never gave me a good explanation why he was focusing on the growth of just one feeder school.
Also, whenever you add 100 students to a high school, it costs an extra $629,000. That money has to come out of another project, and I figured that other project probably needs that money more than giving Daniel High classrooms it may not ever need.
Looking at Oscar Thorslandís suggestion, I did the same calculation. Mr. Thorsland wanted an extra 47% in capacity added. The Liberty area has been growing an average of 0.6% per year. At that rate, it would take 78 years to fill up that high school.
Dr. Brice's Motion Was Backed By The Data:
Dr. Brice's motion made the most sense. The attendance areas are growing between 0.6% to 0.8% a year. One, the growth rates over the past 14 years in the four areas are about the same, so the capacities of the schools should be grown out about the same. Two, adding on 20% to 25% capacity to the high schools will give the schools about 25 to 35 years before they fill up, if the current growth rates continue.
By the way, district wide enrollment growth was 0.1% this year, 0.3% last year, and 0.4% the year before, so the growth rate is slowing. Right now there is an enrollment bubble in the high schools, as evidenced by the falling growth rates in four of five our the middle schools. Once that bubble graduates, there should be a decline in district wide enrollment for a few years. After that, who knows?
In my opinion, it is impossible to predict long-term enrollment growth district wide and it is even harder to predict it for each area of the county. In that case it is best to play defense, and Dr. Brice's common sense motion did just that.
School Board Forcing Itself To Make An Impossible Prediction:
It is no secret I believe the best approach when building schools is building them a bit at a time, like Oconee is doing, and not what Greenville did. One reason is you can't predict long-term enrollment growth. If you build one school at a time, if growth pops up in one area, youíll still have some money to then build a school there and meet the need.
When the school board voted to borrow $336 million and build all the buildings at one time, it didn't realize it forced itself to predict where future enrollment growth will be and that is impossible.
Who could have predicted East End Elementary enrollment would rise 38% the past seven years, and McKissick would fall 27%?
Think about it, the school board is spending 20 years of building funds now, and hence building in 20 years of extra capacity now. If it guesses wrong on enrollment growth, in a few years some schools in the county could be full and others will have empty classrooms. Given you canít move classrooms made of brick and mortar, and all the money will be gone, youíll have to bring back the portables. That is a risk that I doubt weíll avoid.
You say the board could then redraw attendance lines. To that I say, look at the history. The board hasnít redrawn attendance lines in decades, and it indicates the board lacks the political will to do that, so it is unlikely.
What do you do when you have forced yourself to make a prediction and it is impossible to make an accurate prediction? You play defense or hedge yourself. Dr. Brice's suggestion of building out the capacity in all areas is a good hedge. If any one area's enrollment jumps to let's say 1% enrollment growth per year, it will take 20 to 25 years to fill the school.
The district office's suggestion of 25% for Daniel, 20% for Liberty, 20% for Easley and 5% for Pickens didn't make sense. If Pickens happens to be the area that growth accelerates, weíd have portables at that brand new school in 5 years.
A Dacusville High School:
I gather one of the reasons the District Office suggested growing Pickens High out only 5%, was the idea of building a new Dacusville High school was being floated by some board members.
Here are the facts I focused on with that issue. About 400 Dacusville students now attend Pickens High. If you built a Dacusville High, that school would have only 400 students. A high school should be about 800 minimum, because it is expensive to build all those athletic facilities, the auditorium, etc., just for a few students.
The past seven years Dacusville Elementary and Dacusville Middle have grown 22 students or about 3 students a year. To get the extra 400 students needed to fill up an 800 student Dacusville High school would take 127 years.
If growth in Dacusville wasn't going to provide the extra 400 students, then they would have to be taken from Easley High. Following their logic that we needed to limit Pickens capacity to 5%, I said, we should do that with Easley High too. So when either one of those schools grew 5%, then we'd build the new Dacusville High School. That went over like a lead balloon with the Easley faction, Iím sure, but it was logical and fair.
The other obstacle for building a Dacusville High in the near future is money. It would cost at least $40 million. It seems like all the $336 million is as good as spent, so to get $40 million for a Dacusville High, you'll have to go to referendum. I think most on the board realized, after the Greenville Plan was rammed down the throats of voters who rejected a smaller plan, this county isn't going to pass a school bond referendum for a generation.
Dacusville High -- What I Support:
I would consider supporting the sale of the 100 acres we own on Thomas Mill Road and buying something similar on highway 183. We don't have enough students now in Dacusville for a high school, but if growth accelerates, the board of 2015 will be in a better position to work on this issue.
For years I have also supported boosting the size of Dacusville Middle. Right now Dacusville Middle only has 360 students, not enough to feed a high school. Before you build a 800 student Dacusville High, you need a feeder middle school. I support taking up to 350 students out of Gettys (which has way too many students at 1300) and putting them in Dacusville Middle, if parents would approve of it. All we need to do is build out Dacusville Middle a bit and it could handle the 700 students.
Those are two steps that would get the board and Dacusville closer to a Dacusville High School, however, it is up to the board members in Easley and Dacusville to get that ball rolling. They've made little effort to get that going.
Kevin Kay's Motion:
Back to the Nov 6 meeting. At this point, it was clear Dr. Brice's motion was the one that had a chance for majority support. Growing Pickens High only 5% and growing Liberty and Daniel high schools by 50%, didn't seem to have majority support.
Kevin Kay proposed the board build in 30% extra capacity for Liberty and Daniel high schools and 20% for Easley and Pickens. It sounded to me like he bought into the idea of a Dacusville High at some point, because he wanted to limit Easley High to 2000. Growing Easley High by 20% will give it a 1985 student capacity. I think he felt because Liberty and Daniel were smaller, they needed a higher percentage in terms of extra capacity. For example, growing Easley 20% adds 331 to Easley. Growing Liberty 30% adds 203 students to Liberty High.
I understood what he was saying, but I disagreed and feel you need to look at percentages. Also, if I had to guess, Iíd say Easley and Liberty, those cities closest to I-85, will have the highest enrollment growth rate in the future.
Iíve been on the school board long enough to know, when Kay proposed this, it would pass. From 2004 to 2005, I was the 5th vote when the board split in a 5 to 4 vote. After the 2006 election, the board changed a bit, and Kevin became the 5th vote. I knew he would vote for his motion, and I figured all in the Clemson faction would line up for giving Daniel the most (Hay, Cooper, Jones and Skelton). Plus I also figured Thorsland would vote for it because it grew Liberty 30%.
Realizing it was likely to pass, I asked the following be put in the record of the meeting (and this was what got into the Greenville News article): ďIím going to vote against this motion because I believe Easley will have the highest growth rate along with Liberty, so Easleyís and Libertyís capacity should +30% and Danielís and Pickensí +20%." To grow Daniel 30% and Easley only 20% didnít make sense.
The vote was called, and Mr. Thorsland voted "No", I'm guessing because adding 30% to Liberty's capacity was not enough, but the rest voted as I speculated and it passed 5 to 4.
In the end 30% for Daniel and Liberty, and 20% for Pickens and Easley was acceptable. For Pickens, the districtís proposal of 5% was too low, and raising that was my main concern. Whenever building a new school, you need to add ample capacity so you donít end up adding portables in only a few years.