The principals at Georgetown’s two public elementary schools say voters’ approval of next month’s referendum would go a long way toward alleviating overcrowding at their schools.
“Space is a huge issue for us right now,” said Rick Evans, the principal at North Georgetown Elementary School, which is one of the fastest-growing schools in the Indian River School District. “Three to four years ago, our average [grade] size was 105 to 110 kids, but over the last three years we’ve had kindergarten classes that were at 150 students.”
Voters in the Indian River School District are being asked to approve a school tax referendum on Jan. 29 that would raise $6.2 million in new funding per year through a 14.7-cent increase in the current school tax rate of $2.623 per $100 of assessed value. That 6.5 percent hike would cost the average property owner an extra $38.05 a year, according to district officials.
The new funds raised by an approved referendum would be used to add 38 new classrooms at six schools, including eight new rooms at North Georgetown Elementary, eight new rooms at Georgetown Elementary and a new kitchen at the Georgetown Elementary/Georgetown Middle School complex. Funding from the referendum also would be used to hire new teachers to staff the additional classrooms.
Evans said the added rooms are desperately needed at his school, where student enrollment has increased by 20 percent since 2008, including an 8-percent jump from last year to this year, according to district officials.
“We’re in a situation now where we have to house three of our kindergarten classes at the Howard T. Ennis School because we don’t have the space to house them all here,” he said. “Our specialist teachers are already having to float from classroom to classroom because what was our art room has been converted into a fulltime classroom. Right now, we’re looking at whether we’ll have to convert our computer lab into a classroom for next year.”
Evans, who also serves on the district’s referendum committee, said he does not believe the trend of increased student enrollment will abate anytime soon.
“Even in the midst of an economic downturn, our numbers are going up so I don’t think it’s a question of just having a couple of big classes and things returning to normal in the immediate future,” he said. “It’s the same thing for all of our northern schools. The number of people in the area is just continuing to grow. And when the housing market picks up again, I think you’re only going to see the trend continue.”
Without the addition of new classroom space, Evans said his school and others in the district would be forced to increase their student-to-teacher ratio. North Georgetown’s teacher-to-student ratio is currently 18:1, well above the district average of 15:1.
“Having 22 to 25 first or second graders in one classroom certainly won’t help make for an effective learning environment,” Evans said.
Georgetown Elementary School Principal Neil Stong said his building is facing similar crowding issues.
“This summer, we had to acquire two classrooms next door,” he said, referring to the adjacent Georgetown Middle School. “We’re fortunate that our location allowed us that luxury, but as our students and the students from North Georgetown move into the middle school each year, it becomes less and less likely that will be an option we can rely on.”
Georgetown Elementary has experienced a nearly 17-percent increase in student enrollment over the last five years, including a 7-percent increase from the last school year to this year, district official said. The school’s student-to-teacher ratio is currently at 16:1.
“With the possibility of us going to all-day kindergarten in the future, it only increases our existing need for additional classrooms and teachers,” Stong said. “I don’t think there’s any question that approval of this referendum would be a big benefit to our students and teachers.”
Georgetown Middle School Principal Mike Williams could not be reached for comment.
But, district officials have said the referendum also would benefit that school by providing Georgetown Elementary with its own kitchen and cafeteria. Currently, the two schools share the middle school’s cafeteria.
“That situation has resulted in scheduling problems and overcrowding conditions, especially as the student population at the elementary school has increased,” district spokesman David Maull said. “Ideally, we would want to keep those populations separated.”