By Sue Webber
Classrooms won’t be overcrowded when school resumes in the Mounds View School District this week. Not yet, at least.
But 11,168 students are expected to be attending classes in the district this fall, 102 more than last fall’s enrollment and 28 more than were projected.
District projections estimate that an additional 1,600 more students are expected to enroll within the next seven years.
Mounds View now is the 10th largest school district in Minnesota.
The enrollment growth at every school, now at a 15-year high and expected to rise, is fueling the district’s upcoming $164.8 million bond referendum.
If approved by voters on Nov. 7, the 25-year bond is expected to result in a $16.42 monthly tax increase on a home valued at $275,000.
“Families are moving into new homes in new residential developments in the city, many with children,” Supt. Chris Lennox said. “Other homes are turning over. Younger families are coming in and purchasing them. It’s been pretty amazing to have that number of new families arriving in the Mounds View district.”
Most of the district’s schools now are beyond 100 percent capacity, according to officials. As a result, all schools have been closed to open enrollment of students from other districts for the last three years, Lennox said.
“I am so impressed with the teachers in this district,” Lennox said. “They have taken the kids and spaces we have, and they do amazing things.”
So far overcrowding in the classrooms has not been a problem, he said.
“The school board remains very committed to maintain the class size ratio,” Lennox said. “Each school is managing that differently.”
It’s been 18 years since Mounds View has asked its voters to consider a bond proposal. If it is approved, funds from the bond would be used to add classroom space, improve infrastructure, and enhance safety throughout the district.
“As more students show up, we are losing the ability to have breakout or specialist space,” Lennox said. “There are no dedicated spaces for art or music, for example.”
During its study of the district’s facilities, the Facilities Task Force immediately identified designated space for art and music as one of the important needs, he said.
“This is a critical year for us,” Lennox said. “We are really at a pinch point. If the bond is not successful, we’ll either have to consider putting more kids into classrooms, or using temporary classrooms.
“Without additional space across the district, it will be much more difficult to achieve the results Mounds View residents have come to expect.”
Elementary school challenges
The district’s six elementary schools range in age from 49 to 67 years, and no additions have been made for the last 14-16 years. Enrollment at the six schools ranges from 566 to 1,137, rendering the buildings between 103 and 130 percent over capacity.
At present, elementary classroom space is limited, the cafeteria is overcrowded, and hallways, stairwells, entrances or lobbies frequently must be used for music lessons and rehearsals. Some reading and math classes must be held in the learning media center, and small groups often are forced to work in hallways. Some specialists are forced to teach from carts.
Drop-off and pick-up locations for parents and buses create congestion and limit safe walking paths to and from the building.
Proposed elementary improvements, if the bond is approved, include the addition of classrooms, expanded cafeteria and kitchens, improved parent and drop-off areas, and expanded and secured front lobby and entry.
Secondary school challenges
The district’s five middle and high schools range in age from 44 to 65 years, and no additions have been made for the last 13-15 years. Enrollment in the six buildings ranges from 911 to 2,124, rendering the buildings between 101 and 118 percent over capacity.
At present, several teachers use carts and teach in multiple secondary rooms, congested hallways make it difficult for students to get to their classes on time, students often use hallway floors to collaborate in groups, the cafeterias are overcrowded, and the entryway and front office space limits visibility and challenges supervision.
Proposed secondary improvements, if the bond is approved, include secured front entryways, classroom additions, renovated science classrooms, expanded cafeterias and kitchens, updated parent drop-off and bus loops, additional space for storage and, in some cases, renovated pool, media center, auditorium, and gym space, plus improved fitness/wellness space.
Each of the district’s schools will host a facility information night this fall, to inform residents more about the upcoming bond election.
If the bond is approved, design work could begin immediately, and construction would be scheduled to begin in the spring of 2018. Completion of the projects would take from one to three years, depending on size and scope.
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