PASCO -- The Pasco School District is searching for fresh solutions to ease classroom crowding, knowing that voters are in no mood for higher taxes.
Pasco citizens this week suggested year-round schools, expanded online classes and other ideas to the school board.
The district's student population has grown from 8,800 a decade ago to just more than 15,000 today. And it keeps growing.
Its schools are projected to hold more than 20,000 students by 2016.
"We could fill one new elementary and one new middle school today," Superintendent Saundra Hill told the Herald.
The district used money from the last bond measure to buy land for two schools, and to pay for their designs. But paying for construction would require new bond measures.
Hill said it's unlikely voters would approve higher taxes right now, and the school board is hesitant to ask.
"There is no bond election scheduled in the near future," she said.
Instead, a citizen summit this week brought out some less common proposals.
Radically changing the school year schedule was one. Rather than having every student take winter and summer breaks at the same time, a so-called multitrack schedule would have groups of students in the buildings at different times.
The benefit is that existing buildings could hold more students that way, with classrooms used throughout the year, Hill said. The challenges include accommodating families with children spread out over several such tracks, or athletes who need to be in school for certain seasons.
Turning empty buildings in the community into schools was another suggestion. But safety and other school-specific requirements can make it more expensive to put classrooms in a former grocery store, for example, than to just build from scratch, Hill said.
Expanding online classes also is an idea.
No single unconventional idea is likely to be a cure-all for the district, Hill said. "It will take a combination of ideas," she said.
One idea has been mulled over for a while by the district and could be put to a vote at the next board meeting -- asking Pasco and Franklin County to charge an impact fee on new housing developments of more than 10 homes.
New houses mean new school kids and added costs for the districts. Developers can rightfully be asked to share those costs, Hill said.
She said money from those fees never would be enough to pay for a new school. It could cover added portable classrooms, however.
The district already is adding 10 more portables in January.
Another community meeting is planned early next year.