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.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Getting Facilities Plans Right Part III: Elementary Schools

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 elementary school utilization district-wide.  

As a district, we have lost students over the last 10 years, our growth is stagnant, and we cannot refuse to accept that reality as we simultaneously "hope" our enrollment grows as a result of Navy Federal Credit Union's expansion or any other potential  catalyst.

Unfortunately, according to high ranking NFCU personnel I have spoken with--many new employees of that growing firm are already residents of the county--- so this will not/does not generate new students for our schools.  

Disturbingly, I'm told the lion's share of the new NFCU transplants, according to these same NFCU executives, are choosing to live in Santa Rosa, Baldwin, or even Okaloosa counties as they commute to work.  and many that do stay here and buy in Escambia county are choosing private schools.

So we have to plan based upon reality, not pie in the sky.  Even if this creates un-related, uncomfortable questions about why new residents of this area make the school choices they make.

That's a different discussion all together, unrelated to facilities for the most part. (unless, perhaps, if we're talking about parents not wanting their students to attend school at Beulah Elementary in it's current state, where there are portables, modulars, and built-on classrooms all over, resulting in 

massive over-crowding of core facilities like the cafeteria, necessitating lunch periods beginning right after breakfast  and continuing almost until dismissal late in the afternoon...)

As is stands right now, the real numbers tell the real story of our facilities problems.

According to figures from the latest 2015-2016 FISH report compared to the EOY attendance figures from 2015---we have very little excess capacity district-wide in the elementary schools--only between 9-10%--meaning we are already utilizing between 90%-91% of our existing capacity (90% if we leave Molino Park in the figures--91% if we take out Molino Park, a facility that was initially designed and built as a K-8 facility but is now utilized at only about 50% of it's capacity as an elementary school.)  These figures include capacity created by temporary/relocatable/portable classrooms at many of our elementary schools.  Take out the portables and we could be nearing 95% as a district-wide average!  

We desperately need to re-balance elementary schools now, and to create new capacity where it is needed, not where it is politically expedient to create it.

If the average elementary utilization district-wide is already between 90-91%, while our Middle School utilization sits much lower at 76% district-wide, why in the world would we build a middle school before we build an elementary school?  

Why should we build a middle school at all, if we can: 1.) re-balance our existing middle schools by immediately engaging SAZAC to suggest re-drawn attendance boundaries, 2.) swap Woodham Middle with WFHS (creating 500-600 additional middle school slots), and 3.) fully utilize Ernest Ward and/or Molino Park to accept any excess middle school student demand in the North-Central part of the county?

We need to address some seriously out-of-balance and over-crowded elementary schools ( Oakcrest, Blue Angels, Helen Caro) as well as some seriously under-utilized elementary schools (Lincoln Park, Molino Park, West Pensacola, Montclair)  before we even consider building a new middle school---elementary schools will be the first to absorb the students generated by the geometric growth some areas of our community are experiencing!

We must get our building strategy of the next several years right; shot-gunning a plan to spend money building shiny, brand-new facilities without regarding the fact that we already are under-utilizing our

 existing facilities is wasteful.  We need to reduce the footprint, not grow it, in order to save operational costs that could be better spent in the classrooms.  Spending $75Million while not getting every district student out of portables is irresponsible.  Not doing a thing at all to relieve the decade-long over-crowding of Jim Bailey with this plan is unacceptable.  Unnecessarily closing the last middle school in district 3 and reverting to busing all middle school students out of district 3 is unconscionable.

We desperately need an independent facilities analysis, conducted by a non-connected, un-biased, apolitical professional planning firm, in order to give the school board a fair and balanced assessment of our facilities needs.  This is what I am advocating so that we are not simply the latest Escambia County School Board to go along with a plan that is not optimal--but rather politically driven--as several of our predecessor school boards have done.  

Let's get it right this time.

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