School Board, Concerned Parents Discuss Options after Prop 3 Defeat
With steadily rising enrollment, how will the district deal with overcrowded classrooms without risking the educational gains they have made?
Although it was 8 a.m. on a Saturday, parents and concerned citizens gathered to hear the Board of Directors of the Wentzville School District discuss the fallout of Proposition 3's failure last month. The levy would have raised $60 million to add 72 new elementary and middle school classrooms and begin the first phase of the new high school.
Students from five St. Charles County communities, including Lake Saint Louis, attend Wentzville Schools.
Superintendent Dr. Terry Adams opened the meeting with a discussion of future facility needs. Wentzville is the fastest growing district in the state, Adams said, and no one believes that growth is ending. In a way, Adams said, "we are victims of our own success," because people keep moving into the area (according to a study by the City of Wentzville), attracted by the quality of the school district.
Wentzville schools have shown tremendous improvement in their MAP test scores over the last three years. These tests, part of the Missouri Assessment Program, are designed to assess student progress.
MAP test scores in Wentzville are better than 91 per cent of the school districts in the state, Adams said. In 2007, records show, Wentzville's scores were 74 per cent better than other districts. And yet, Wentzville's average expenditure per student is just over $9,000, one of the lowest in the area.
Prop 3 narrowly failed with 48 per cent of voters approving of the measure. Adams said the measure's failure was not a shock.
"It's the economy, stupid," he said.
Kari Monsees, chief financial officer for the school district, also spoke about the increasing student population. In 2000, district enrollment was just under 6,000. This September, it was 12,631, and is projected to top 16,000 by 2016.
A study by the Gates Foundation shows that the most effective high schools have enrollments of 600-900 students.
"Ours are almost double that," said Dr. Susan Gauzy, Asssistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment. As schools grow to more than 1,000 students, problems arise with discipline and violence, lower graduation rates, lower achievement, less participation in school activities and less parent involvement. Although most classes in the district fall in the class size standards set by the Missouri School Improvement Plan, this will not be the case as growth continues.
Bruce Dell from Hoener Associates Inc., said construction can still go forward if voters approve the tax increase in April. Without the new facilities, the district's enrollment will exceed its physical capacity by 2012. Adams said that it was still possible to get the levy on the April ballot.
Monsees offered alternatives to asking for the tax increase:
- Using non-traditional spaces like storage rooms and stages for classrooms
- Traveling teachers, who use other teachers' classrooms during plan period and often use carts to carry supplies and equipment from room to room
- Bringing in modular classrooms
- Going back to half-day kindergarten
- Increasing class sizes
- Modifying the school calendar, either with a year-round schedule like Francis Howell or with a split schedule
Board President Michael Cecil said of the traveling teachers idea, "Teaching from a cart isn't teaching. It's running a race."
Cecil said part of the reason for the tax hike's failure was that parents thought Phase I of the high school meant an unfinished school with no amenities like a gymnasium or band room.
Parent Stefanie Brawner confirmed that perception.
"You are talking about a bare-bones school," she said. "It's a huge leap of faith to think the public will fund future needs. I urge the board to wait two years. Fund the entire project at once."
Vauner said that she was under the impression that only $18 million was going toward the new high school, but Cecil quickly addressed that misunderstanding. Closer to $40 million will be allocated to the first phase of high school construction.
Parent Heather Reiter urged the board to ask the voters to support the measure again.
"I feel that I have a lot more information that makes it even more clear," she said. "I would be dumbfounded how anyone could deny this need. I hope the board stands behind our kids and puts this back on the ballot."