Richland School District able to avoid portable classrooms

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 1, 2014 

The Richland School District will be able to avoid installing more portable classrooms at elementary and middle schools despite enrollment growth, though one school board member wants a deeper look at how to manage the growing number of students.

Using "tennis shoe teachers," or teachers who share classrooms, is one of the strategies the district will likely use to accommodate growth in the short term, Superintendent Rick Schulte told the board last week.

"We believe for at least one year at the elementary schools and maybe two years at the middle schools we won't have to lease or purchase portables," he said.

But growth patterns at the district's schools prompted Chairwoman Phyllis Strickler to recommend administrators also look at moving some students among schools to make room.

"I think it would be my preference that we look at other possibilities other than tennis shoe teachers and converting computer labs to classrooms," she said.

The district is working on several school projects, including a new elementary and new middle school, along with three schools being rebuilt and a fourth being partially rebuilt. That work is being paid for by a $98 million bond approved by voters last year.

However, the first of those projects won't be finished until fall 2015. Meanwhile, elementary school enrollment is expected to increase by about 100 students next fall. About 250 to 300 new middle school students are expected in the next three years.

Installing portable classrooms would provide space for students but the district would be on a tight timeline to get them ordered in time for the fall, Schulte said. There's also limited space on school grounds to place them.

Making teachers rotate among classrooms or move around a building on a cart to classes is not popular, Schulte said, but would be a temporary fix.

Other options include larger class sizes and converting some other school spaces, such as computer labs or art and music rooms, into general classrooms.

Strickler said it's clear the district's growth is in particular areas. Enterprise Middle School, which already had more than 1,000 students to start the school year, has added 13 more since the fall.

Carmichael and Chief Joseph middle schools, on the other hand, have only added one or two students. Chief Joseph has the fewest students at about 700 and could accommodate more, she said.

"We need to look at moving pockets of students," she said.

The district has looked at how schools are growing and has taken steps to limit enrollment at some schools to ease crowding, Schulte said. That includes restricting transfer requests into cramped schools but allowing students to transfers out of them.

Also this week:

-- District officials may look at going through the Air Force to establish a sought-after Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, district officials said.

Commonly referred to as JROTC, the program participants receive uniforms, participate in military training and take classes on military topics, citizenship and leadership. Those who go on to join the military often receive incentives for their past participation in JROTC.

The district had been looking at offering the program through the Army but were on a waiting list.

Kennewick High School will offer JROTC through the Air Force next fall, a little more than a year after beginning to pursue the idea. That school's success at landing a program led Richland officials to also consider that service branch as a possible sponsor.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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