As we are moving toward a plan to build a brand new middle school in order to accommodate growth in the Beulah/Pine Forest Road/9 Mile Road growth corridor, a plan I strongly disagree with, it is instructive to look at our current middle school utilization district-wide.
As is stands right now, according to figures from the latest 2015-2016 FISH report compared to the EOY attendance figures from 2015---we have excess capacity district-wide in the middle schools of nearly 24%--meaning we are utilizing only about 76% of our existing capacity.
The troubling thing that is on my mind continues to be Jim Bailey Middle School----the most over-crowded middle school in Escambia County----get's no relief from the over-crowding as a result of the proposed building plan that is being contemplated by the district.
The second troubling thing on my mind is the move of Brown Barge Middle School out of District 3, which would leave no middle schools at all in District three, meaning every middle school student in district 3 would now be bused out of district three-- to attend schools in other districts. Are we going back to busing like in the 1970's here? This is problematic. BBMS is a solid facility, and can be upgraded with some remodeling and renovations to fulfill its mission for years to come there. To those that scoff at this--Warrington MS is older than BBMS, and yet we have spent $millions there renovating that facility, making it quite nice now from a facilities perspective. Why can't we renovate BBMS like we did Warrington, an older facility? Answer: we can and should--and we ought to consider raising the cap on that program as well to alleviate crowding at Ransom, Baiely, and Ferry Pass. Parents want that, and the program is solid--so if not for political considerations why should we not consider listening to the will of the people and raise the cap at BBMS by 1-200 students? And, the idea that IF Warrington can be improved, Jim Bailey will be less crowded--that is not a realistic solution to Jim Bailey over-crowding although it appears as if it is the de facto plan which I find unacceptable. (The big problem with Warrington now is its continuously dwindling attendance--now down to just 660 students representing a 57% utilization as a facility. It is the oldest middle school facility in the district and it is the least utilized. So tell me why, if not politics, why this is not the obvious choice for closure/consolidation? Oh, that's right--politics and political implications are infused in this current building/relocation plans.)
Our district needs an independent, non-biased, non-political assessment of needs done by an independent consultant that is free of political or other bias. We've done this in the past here, and other districts do this routinely. We must make smart decisions that are free from bias or other political considerations. Our middle schools, with the exception of Jim Bailey, Ferry Pass, and Ransom, are dramatically underutilized. We should engage SAZAC immediately and we should put every option on the table before a knee-jerk building of a brand new, unnecessary middle school in Beulah. Everything needs to be on the table--to include re-purposing Molino Park's use (only 42% utilized right now) as it was initially designed to be a K-8 to alleviate over-crowding at Ransom. (Yeah--that was another instance where politics muddied the waters to the detriment of students, parents, and taxpayers.) or Ernest ward, currently underutilized by as many as 200 students, being used to absorb extra students from the northern Ransom boundary. Everything must be on the table so that the best utilization of taxpayer resources, free from politics, can be accomplished.
We have made blunders in the past with respect to facilities (Northview/Tate locations, Three schools together, Molino Park K-8, West side K-8 deleted, and there are many others) --let's not do a repeat this time through. Let's get it right this time.