Pasco task force recommends year-round schools

The Pasco School District soon may be the first in the state to run some of its schools all year.

The school board Tuesday received the final report from a task force that was assembled earlier this year to figure out how to ease overcrowding in Pasco schools.

The group, which is made up of parents, teachers and representatives of community organizations, recommended the district make sixth grade part of elementary schools. Those elementary schools then would switch to a multi-track, year-round schedule once they exceed certain enrollment thresholds, which are yet to be determined.

Middle and high schools would stay on the traditional schedule.

The board will hold several public hearings on the issue in the coming weeks and is scheduled to vote on the proposal Oct. 11.

The district had to look at unconventional options because of its continued enrollment growth and lack of space, said John Morgan, director of operations.

Earlier in the meeting, district officials announced that the September student count was almost 15,500 -- about 500 more than last year. It is expected to grow by another 200 in the coming weeks, if traditional patterns hold.

That means the district once again grew enough in a year to fill an additional elementary school. But it can't build another school, as voters rejected a bond levy in April. Every Pasco school is filled far beyond capacity already, with portable classrooms catching the overflow so far.

But the district's school libraries, common areas, hallways and gyms are now filled to the brink, so adding portables will not be an option beyond next year, Morgan has said.

The task force's 41 members met eight times from February to August to explore alternatives. They laid out recommendations in detail Tuesday.

If the board approves its proposal, the district would create K-6 elementary schools, with only seventh and eighth grade remaining in middle schools.

This would reduce enrollment in the severely overcrowded middle schools by about one-third, said task force member Miranda Bowman, parent of a middle schooler. Few districts around the country use multi-track, year-round schedules for secondary schools, as extracurricular and athletic schedules are nearly impossible to spread over different tracks.

Those activities typically start in seventh grade, while sixth-grade classrooms share many of the characteristics of elementary school, Bowman said.

The K-6 elementaries would shift to a 60/20 schedule a year after they pass a certain enrollment threshold, said Heidi Redfield, another task force member. She has three kids in Pasco elementary schools, she said.

The Captain Gray Early Learning Center -- a school full of only kindergartners -- would not be included in this plan.

Going to a 60/20 schedule means a school's students are split up in four groups. Students go to school for 60 days, stay home for 20, go to school for 60, and so on. The state-mandated 180-day school year remains intact, but is broken up differently. There is no more long, shared summer break.

The trick is that the four groups go to school on staggered schedules, so that only three-fourths of all students are in class at the same time. This frees up 25 percent of school capacity.

The task force included three different threshold scenarios in the proposal. All three figure that every room in a given school building will be used. They differ in how great a percentage of portable classroom capacity should be used before the entire school switches to multi-track, year-round.

Given current enrollment numbers, not all three models would lead to all elementary schools switching to the new schedule next year, Morgan told the Herald during the meeting.

It appeared that this October's enrollment numbers would be the initial basis for the threshold, with at least some schools possibly moving to the new schedule next school year, if the board accepts the proposal.

Every effort should be made to maintain a common spring break for all tracks, Redfield said.

Officials previously had said that any multi-track solution would include short common breaks around the major holidays.

The process to assign students to the different tracks should be developed as soon as possible, Redfield said.

Families need to be given the chance to choose the tracks they want their kids to be in as much as possible, Bowman said. Most likely, that would mean parents rank tracks in order of preference.

Siblings ought to be on the same track, Bowman said.

The system should be thoroughly evaluated and improved, if necessary, after the first year, she said.

The district should hold informational meetings in the schools in the coming weeks and meet with child care providers, said task force member Courtney Stenson.

Additionally, the proposal contained a worst-case provision should growth outpace even the increased capacity under the new schedule before a bond can be passed. If schools exceed 133 percent of multi-track enrollment capacity, they would switch to double-shifting in addition to the year-round schedule.

This means running two shifts of classes throughout the day, with one starting very early in the morning and the second ending in the early evening. This is seen as a last resort, as it would greatly inconvenience parents, students and school employees, Redfield said.