Reno Gazette-Journal: School board deciding big changes for 14 crowded schools

By: Trevon Milliard , tmilliard@rgj.com

RENO GAZETTE JOURNAL / 12:57 p.m. PDT October 10, 2016

Some big changes could be around the corner for 14 crowded elementary schools, including early conversion to year-round classes, moving whole grades of students to nearby middle schools and doubling-up classes into the same room.

The Washoe County School Board will decide Tuesday whether to approve the $956,000 in changes, taking up the matter at 4 p.m. in a public meeting at 425 East Ninth Street in Reno.

Superintendent Traci Davis proposes the changes based on recommendations submitted by each school on how they’d like to alleviate crowding. Each school assembled a team of parents and staff to write their overcrowding management plans.

All 14 schools are near or over their student capacities.

Only brick-and-mortar buildings are counted in calculating student capacity, not the 160 portable classrooms spread across all 62 elementary schools. Portables may add classroom space, but they don’t increase other spaces needed to accommodate more students, such as the cafeteria, gym, library, theater, bathrooms and hallways.

Here are the changes proposed at the 14 crowded schools:

  • Take Alice Smith Elementary School off the nine-month class schedule and institute year-round classes starting in the 2017-2018 school year.
  • Provide additional portable classrooms at Booth, Hunter Lake, Whitehead and Winnemucca elementary schools.
  • Move Silver Lake Elementary School’s fifth-graders to Cold Springs Middle School.
  • Move Lemmon Valley Elementary School’s sixth-graders to O’Brien Middle School.
  • Create room for additional classrooms by converting existing space in Loder Elementary School’s boiler room and using the library.
  • Convert Taylor Elementary School’s computer lab into a regular classroom. To provide computer access, mobile carts would be stocked with laptops and brought to classrooms.
  • Double-up classes into the same rooms at Beasley, Gomes, Smithridge and Huffaker elementary schools.
  • Sepulveda would continue its existing sacrifices for space and would not be forced into year-round classes in 2017-2018, as originally thought.

Of all these proposals, the biggest effect would be on Alice Smith Elementary School. It chose something that other schools have begged to avoid – year-round classes.

Alice Smith doesn’t yet meet the district’s year-round trigger of being 20 percent over capacity, but it is asked for year-round classes anyway. The school is expected to be 18 percent over capacity next school year, forecasting an enrollment of 823 students in a campus built for 699. The school currently has six portable classrooms.

However, district officials and the school’s overcrowding management team don’t believe the school can survive next year without year-round classes, which increases Alice Smith’s capacity by 25 percent.

When a school shifts to year-round classes, students are put on four different tracks spreading the school year across 12 months instead of nine months. One track, or 25 percent of students, is on break at any given time.

Even if Alice Smith didn’t volunteer to go year-round in 2017, it would likely be forced to do so in 2018. Forecasts put the school’s enrollment at 849 students in 2018, just over the year-round trigger of 839 students.

Read this story on the Reno Gazette-Journal website.