I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why We Need to Get Students out of Portables

Occupied portable classroom behind one of our district's High Schools, photographed June 18th by a district teacher.

Occupied portable classroom behind one of our district's High Schools, photographed June 18th by a district teacher

One of our High School teachers forwarded these pictures to me.  

They tell a story better than I can describe in words, a story that must be told and discussed before we vote to spend upwards of $75 Million for three brand new schools, the effect of which will not eliminate all of the portables (like the ones pictured above) from being present on many campuses in our district.

When I asked this teacher about the current use of these portables pictured above, not believing they actually could/would still be used based upon the dilapidated appearance, I was told they were, in fact, still being used.  

"Yes sir, they are being used.  And the kids told me that they are "nice" inside.  They may think so, but I believe they deserve better"  Said this teacher.  

And I agree with her assessment--- as I'm sure most of the voters in the county would, given the fact we just asked them to re-authorize the half-cent sales tax for facilities needs.

Portable classrooms are a necessary evil in some cases--everybody gets this.  When school choice becomes a priority, and students choose other schools, sometimes temporary, portable capacity is needed.  Most folks have no problem with the utilization of these structures for temporary needs driven by school choice.

But when some schools have needs that keep expanding year after year after year--- the answer cannot be to create "portable farms" outside these schools.  Beulah Elementary school has 18 portable classrooms, 8 modular classrooms, for a total of 26 total classrooms that were not part of the school's original footprint-- creating capacity for an astounding total of  520 students.  (In addition to all of this relocatable capacity having been added to Beulah ES, an additional 8 classroom Kindergarten addition was built and added to this school in 2009.)  While these portable and modular units allow for the additional classroom space necessary--this comes at a cost;  The portables must be evacuated during thunderstorms, and these students and teachers then must try to teach and learn in doubled-up classrooms, the library, the PE room, and/or the cafeteria until the weather passes.  This is an 

unacceptable condition.

An additional consequence of meeting the classroom capacity need via relocatable classrooms is that the extra capacity facilitated by portables does nothing to relieve the core facilities over-crowding at a school like Beulah---which leads to lunches starting earlier (lunches start at 10:00 AM at Beulah) and going later than is optimally called for, in order to accommodate the additional student load with a kitchen and cafeteria facility that was designed to accommodate far fewer students than are on this campus.

Beulah ES has nearly 1000 students.  Construction projects are exploding all over Beulah, from Mobile Hwy, to 9-mile road, to Tower Ridge Road, to the high-density multi-unit apartments being built at exit 5, to houses springing up all over Nature Trail.  

Bottom Line:  Taking the 300 students  from Beulah and busing them up to a new Elementary School in Cantonment will do nothing to alleviate the Beulah ES  over-crowding.  After this plan is executed, 700 students will remain in the over-crowded Beulah, meaning there will still be portables/modulars out back, and all of these housing developments will quickly fill Beulah ES back up to 1000 or more students. [picture removing one's arm from a bucket full of ice water--that is how quickly the 300 relocated students will be re-filled in Beulah due to the building bonanza] What is needed in Beulah right now is another Elementary School---not a middle school, not more portables at Beulah, not building a cafeteria annex at Beulah ES "at some future date".  Let's be smart and get this right, and let's get rid of the portables at Beulah and all around the district with the money we have been graciously given by the citizens.

According to the latest FISH report, we have 240 portables district-wide, and calculated at 20 students per portable, this equates to 4,800 students, or more than 10 percent of our enrollment, attending school in these portables.

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