The arrival of portable classrooms at Coeur d’Alene High School in 1989 spelled the end of double-shifting and brought sighs of relief to parents and educators.
Those portables are on the move again to ease crowding at other schools, but they’re bringing no audible sighs this time.
Double shifts are on the horizon even with the addition of a second high school, two elementary schools and use of the portables.
After losing two bond elections for building a third middle school, parents and school officials ponder the unpleasant.
“We can’t put a ‘no vacancy’ sign up,” said Canfield Middle School Principal Jim Lien. “If the kids keep coming, we’re going to educate them.”
Coeur d’Alene schools aren’t the only ones bulging at the cinder blocks.
Kootenai County’s three largest districts are swelling about 3 percent a year, which keeps them coming back to the voters for relief.
Each district may seek a building levy in the spring, although such elections are far from certain.
Most North Idaho school districts historically have had difficulty getting the two-thirds majority needed to pass bonds for school construction.
A rare year was 1992 when Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene passed bonds for an elementary school and high school, respectively. Since then, only one out of five school bond levies has passed in the county.
That was in the Lakeland School District. Lakeland is proposing another bond issue in the spring to build another junior high school.
Although Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene school officials say they need new buildings now, they tentatively are scheduling levy elections in the spring to avoid coinciding with the delivery of property tax bills in October.
With the backlash against property taxes, they need other means of squeezing students into their limited space.
In Post Falls, the jungle gyms and swing sets are being installed this week at the district’s newly designated kindergarten center.
This fall, all kindergartners will go to class in the Frederick Post building. There’s no room for them at the three elementary schools.
“The kindergarten center will be one of the last positive things we have available,” said assistant superintendent Jerry Keane. “We’re pretty much out of options.”
Coeur d’Alene will go a route impractical for Post Falls. The school district’s broad tax base means it can build schools through a Special Plant Facilities Levy, a payas-you-go levy that only requires 55 percent voter approval.
The district can raise about $3 million to $4 million a year - enough to build and open a middle school in four to five years.
In comparison, it would take Post Falls more than 20 years to raise the money for a new high school through that type of levy.
Even with their accelerated timeline, Coeur d’Alene officials say they can’t move fast enough.
Volunteer planners for the Coeur d’Alene district have come up with 10 short-term ways to solve miserable conditions at the middle school.
None is ideal, and several would do away with the middle school in its current sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade form - the form educators say is best for that age group.
By moving kindergartners to one location - as Post Falls is doing - or doing away with kindergarten altogether, sixth-graders could move back to the elementary level.
The state of Idaho does not require that schools teach kindergarten, but eliminating it would spark opposition from parents, predicted Superintendent Doug Cresswell.
The district probably would move eighth-graders to the high schools before eliminating kindergarten, despite concerns that eighth-graders are too young for high school.
Some options that would keep the middle school students together include year-round schools and a staggered schedule, with only two-thirds of the students attending school at a time. Another is double shifts, which means half the student body would attend in the morning and half in the afternoon.
Those who experienced doubleshifting at the high school in the ‘80s found it deplorable. “It was an unpleasant, even destructive, experience,” Cresswell said.
An option gaining popularity is the portable school - moving portables to school property near Ramsey Road and building a cafeteria/ gym facility to serve them.
But the latter is expensive, too.
Each portable, with two classrooms each, costs at least $20,000 to move, said Bryan Martin, maintenance director. His staff has moved five of them this summer to the middle schools and two elementary schools.
As outrageous as some of the options sound, parents and educators say something has to be done.
“Literally, I don’t think Lakes (Middle School) can handle any more,” said Barbara Beattie, a parent and former member of the district’s long-range planning committee.
“What do you do about those core facilities?” she asked. “Kids can’t go to the bathrooms. That’s terrible when kids can’t go to the bathroom.”
Hundreds of kids do squeeze into the bathrooms, and the constant flushings and faucet use are just a portion of the wear and tear that the crowds of kids have on a school.
“A few thousand” dollars were spent on making bathroom repairs at Canfield Middle School this past year, Martin said. A couple of dozen flush valves had to be replaced and an untold number of leaks repaired.
Aside from maintenance hassles, teachers and students complain about crowded hallways and rooms.
“So much energy concentrated in a small area is quite intense,” said teacher Barb Scarth, who spent part of the last school year teaching social studies in a gymnasium storage room the size of a single-car garage.
“Sometimes you just want to get out of there,” she said.
Despite the teachers’ best efforts, in a crowded school some students are more likely to go unnoticed. Lien has noticed behavior problems increase with the crowds, and now carries a cellular phone across campus with him in case of trouble.
“It’s real important at that age that we watch them real closely,” Lien said. “The larger you get, the more likely they’ll fall through the cracks.”
As unappealing as the short-term solutions are, some school supporters say even the worst of them would help in the long run to win support for bond levies.
“Double-shifting made a dramatic impression,” Beattie said. “People could not handle that kind of scheduling in their lives, let alone what it did in the schools.”