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Growth Pains Educators, Parents Seeking Solutions To Overcrowding

Sat., Jan. 6, 1996

Every day, Susan Buckner monitors the school buses outside of Ramsey Elementary School.

Armed with a list of names, she checks carefully to make sure every kindergarten student successfully makes the transition from one school bus to another.

One takes them to Ramsey, the next takes them to Hayden Lake Elementary or home, depending on the time of day.

Her job is part of a stop-gap measure to manage growth. To make room at Ramsey Elementary, the entire kindergarten class attends Hayden Lake, farther away from their homes. These children were caught in the middle of a space crunch that won’t go away.

Other adjustments have been made at other elementary schools in the annual juggling act of cramming kids into too few schools.

“We are in a total crisis,” said Mike Bullard, a parent of students at Ramsey Elementary. “We may be able to survive this year or next year, but it’s hurting.”

Bullard is co-chairing a committee of parents and staff members that is trying to devise a longer-term solution to the crowding problems in the elementary schools.

Within the next two years, the elementary population is expected to overflow the total classroom space in the schools, including the portable classrooms.

“If we maximize the capacities of each school, we’re sacrificing something,” said parent and committee co-chair Stephanie Powers. “We’re overstressing core facilities, students lose out on learning time or lose specialized classrooms.”

As it is now, every year too many children move within the attendance zones of Ramsey Elementary and Hayden Meadows for those schools to hold. That forces some out of their neighborhood school.

The district tentatively is planning to hold an election for a special plant facilities levy in the spring to build a middle school. But no immediate plans are in the works for another elementary school.

So two parents and a principal from each school have formed a committee to research all available options to house children. The 35-member committee meets twice a month and expects to make a recommendation to the School Board in March.

Bullard got involved after fighting a boundary change that would have forced his entire neighborhood to send its children to Hayden Lake this year.

The kindergarten solution was the result of a compromise.

“Once you get involved, you push your issue and then they say, ‘You know, there’s a bigger picture,”’ he said.

The big picture is a complex web of cause and effect, benefits and sacrifices, and the unavoidable need for more classroom space.

The committee needs to decide, Powers said, “Do you want to affect a lot of people a little bit, or a few people a lot?”

One of the options under consideration is a centralized kindergarten or fifth-grade, possibly in the existing alternative high school. That essentially would eliminate the alternative school.

Another idea is starting year-round school at Hayden Meadows and Fernan elementary schools, the only two schools with air-conditioning. That would require enough families to volunteer to attend the year-round schools.

The only successful year-round schools in Idaho are the ones that parents send their children to by choice, said Bryan Elementary Principal John House.

Other options include eliminating kindergarten altogether, double-shifting at the elementary level, and building two elementary schools instead of a third middle school.

The list is varied, but all of the solutions are bound to make some people unhappy, Bullard and Powers said.

They hope to get people involved from the start, so that their recommendations to the board can take all concerns into consideration.

The parent-teacher organizations will help collect information. Residents can address their ideas and preferences to the parent representative at their neighborhood elementary school. Each school has a mailbox for them.

“It would be very helpful if they have input to come forward now, not at the board meeting in May,” Bullard said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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