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Columbia School Board to consider enrollment, new substitute teacher plan at Monday meeting

Monday, October 8, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia School Board members will hear an update on elementary school enrollment projections and building capacity Monday night and could start addressing ways to deal with changing school populations.

District Spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the district might consider looking into more creative approaches as enrollment projections hover around building capacity. Possible ideas that could be considered include adding more trailers to Mill Creek Elementary School, breaking up attendance areas even further or allowing students to attend another school in their neighborhood.

The district could also add more trailers to form a fifth-grade wing at Gentry Middle School. Having trailers at Gentry would take some of the pressure off common areas, such as gyms and cafeterias, that all grades use, Baumstark said.

By the 2015-16 school year, the district projects 853 students will attend Mill Creek, a school designed to hold 700 without trailers. With trailers, the school can support 850 students.

Principal Tabetha Rawlings said Mill Creek classes still average about 22 to 25 students. All core-curriculum teachers have their own classroom, but some specialty ones, such as art teachers, travel with carts when they teach in a room, she said.

"We're definitely making it work," Rawlings said.

In March, the board approved a rezoning proposal that moved 76 students from Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary School to Parkade Elementary School to reduce overcrowding at Alpha Hart.

The district is planning to open a new elementary school on the south side of Columbia in 2016, Rawlings said. The opening of that school would help with the overcrowding at Mill Creek, she said.

District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said it’s a challenge to find the right site for the school. The district needs to consider the attendance area boundaries in that part of town, so the school doesn’t become overcrowded too quickly. Price is also a concern, she said.

The new elementary school would be funded by bond issue money passed in 2012. Another elementary school near Battle High School, planned to open in 2015, is being funded by money from a 2010 bond issue.

Other topics to be discussed at Monday’s board meeting include:

  • Substitute teacher plan

    District administrators are recommending that the board approve a proposal to contract substitute teaching out to a national company, Kelly Educational Staffing.

    If the district hires 30 permanent substitutes and they fill in for absent teachers 99 percent of the time, it would cost about $440,000. Contracting with Kelly Educational Staffing in the same situation would cost the district about $330,000.

    Baumstark said the district has struggled to fill all the substitute requests from their teachers. Substitutes don’t want the positions that are open, she said.

    Since the 2009-10 school year, the number of substitute teachers requested has gone down and the number of jobs substitutes have turned down has gone up, according to district data.

    Baumstark said finding substitutes for special education classes has been a challenge. Since 2009, requests for substitutes for special education classes have been filled less and less often. The percentage of unfilled requests has increased from 7 percent to almost 11 percent in 2011-12.
  • Custodial services contract

    The district could possibly contract out custodial services for Battle High School, Baumstark said. According to data from the district, if the cost of contracting the service were $300,000, the projected yearly savings would be a little more than $250,000.

    If the district decides to handle the services in-house, it would pay almost $600,000 in salaries and benefits to 17 custodial employees. By contracting those positions out, the district wouldn’t have to pay for individual salaries and benefits, just for the service.

    The district is looking at three companies for the contract. The lowest bid is from GCA Education Services in Knoxville, Tenn.

The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. at the Neil C. Aslin Administration Building at 1818 W. Worley St.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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