Mill Creek, Rock Bridge PTA concerned about school overcrowding

Friday, September 27, 2013 | 5:38 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Parent Teacher Associations of Rock Bridge and Mill Creek Elementary schools are trying to find a way to combat overcrowding in their schools.

Parents and PTA board leaders from both schools reviewed last year's overcrowding statistics and the district's enrollment projections for the 2013-14 school year Thursday. About 25 to 30 people attended the brainstorming session in hopes of finding a solution to present to the Columbia School Board about the elementary school overcrowding issue, Mill Creek principal Tabetha Rawlings said.

"We were just trying to come up with additional ideas since overcrowding has reached maximum capacity," Rawlings said.

Mill Creek, which was built to hold 700 students, counted 877 students on its first day of classes in August. Rock Bridge, intended to hold 520 students, had 567 on its first day. The district expects those numbers to continue to rise once final enrollment numbers are released next week.

"Based on our size, we really have no room for growth here," Rawlings said.

Mill Creek added two additional trailers this year to meet school capacity guidelines.

Although no decision was made at the meeting, parents presented possible options for the board to consider. Of these, half-day and off-site kindergarten were discussed at length, Rawlings said.

Implementing half-day or off-site kindergarten programs would free space in both schools. Half-day kindergarten would divide kindergarten enrollment into either morning or afternoon sessions. An off-site kindergarten solution would move all kindergarten classes to a new location, most likely a building obtained by the district, board member Jan Mees said.

Logistics are a major concern for parents and the district. Busing students to other schools, or even using other buildings for "kindergarten academies," would mean a lot of planning. The district would have to find buildings that meet fire code and safety standards of normal school buildings. A new location would also mean splitting up students in higher grade levels from their younger, kindergarten-age siblings, Mees said.

"I think there was a bit of frustration with parents hoping that this problem had been dealt with before," Rawlings said.

Rock Bridge and Mill Creek have been in the board's radar for a while — the district is building a new elementary school in southwest Columbia to relieve overcrowding in these two schools — but the recent housing boom on the south side of town caused enrollment to increase faster than expected, Mees said.

Mees, who is a member of the long-range facilities planning committee, the board committee charged with looking ahead to see how the district can keep its facilities going, said that would take a lot of planning.

The board will need to discuss the results of the meeting when it convenes again, Mees said. After that, it will have to decided if any of the options presented at the meeting will be financially doable for the district.

If the board decides to move forward with kindergarten class changes, then members will most likely talk to parents of incoming kindergarten students since they will be the ones most affected by the decision, Mees said.

"The most important thing is for kids to get the academic experience they need," Mees said.

Redrawing district boundary lines, adding mobile classrooms and creating magnet schools are other possible solutions being considered by the PTA and the board.

Mill Creek and Rock Bridge elementary schools’ Parent Teacher Associations met with School District officials Thursday to discuss possible solutions to alleviate the problem of overcrowding. Both schools have had enrollments over capacity for several years, according to Columbia Public Schools.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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