OXFORD– The Facilities Committee of the Clear Creek Amana school district was formed last fall to explore the needs of the growing district, and propose solutions for consideration by the school board of directors. Since October, the volunteer members have poured over a plethora of enrollment figures and capacity data for the district’s buildings.
In December the University of Iowa’s Gerard Rushton, Ph.D., and graduate student Geoffrey Smith, M.S., presented a draft report forecasting enrollment trends through 2022. At the Wednesday, Jan. 9, committee meeting, the pair returned with their final report.
As with the draft report, Rushton and Smith show continued growth in population, and therefore, enrollment, on the eastern side of the district. That growth includes the communities of North Liberty and Tiffin. Meanwhile, on the western end, population trends are projected to remain steady in the Amana area.
While this was not a surprise to the committee members, board members or administrators in attendance, the report did provide scientifically derived validation of what they have observed in recent years.
The report shows a consistent six to seven percent annual growth in enrollment overall through 2023. Rushton said this figure confirmed growth trends he and Smith found not only in individual grade levels, but also in cohort groups, or following a particular class as they matriculate through the grade levels from kindergarten to high school. As an example, Rushton projects 187-second graders in the 2014-2015 school year. Factoring in the growth percentage, he predicts that class will swell to 273 by the time they reach tenth grade in 2022-2023.
The report documents kindergarten enrollment has increased by 80 percent since 2007, from 99 to 178 currently, and estimates K-5 enrollment will continue to expand and eventually cascade into the middle school, then on to the high school. Rushton and Smith forecast middle school enrollment to increase 44 percent during the next four years. From 2017 to 2022, the pair predicts the high school enrollment will increase from 679 in 2017 to 1,071 in 2022.
“I would be very surprised if the future is less than what we’ve projected,” Rushton told the group. “These projections are not news to you, you’ve got growth. It is not news to you that it is going to continue.”
Following Rushton’s presentation, superintendent Denise Schares asked if he could suggest a location for a new elementary school, if the committee and board were to propose one. The doctor smiled and declined to make such a recommendation, and said that dilemma would require additional study. He advised the committee against building schools merely where the populations are currently. He offered an example of the Iowa City Community School District, which built a number of neighborhood schools in reaction to new housing developments. This led to instances of schools being located very close to each other, and at times closing as enrollment numbers shifted.
Instead, Rushton advocates a wedge location that would draw students from a broader area.
Rushton’s presentation was videotaped and will be available on the committee’s website: www.cca.k12.ia.us/Admin/facilitycommittee.html . Also on the website are agendas and minutes from past meetings as well as a frequently asked questions page and listing of committee members. There is also a link to send an e-mail to the group.
In other news from the agenda, committee co-chair Malinda Lamb reviewed a list of lessons learned from the district’s last bond referendum in 2006, which carried some controversy that apparently continues yet today. Lamb said if a new building is to be built, the actual site should be determined prior to the bond issue vote. Also, there is a critical need for involvement from the entire CCA district in the decision making process. Lamb also stated the importance of making the committee’s data transparent and accessible by the public.
Ensuring a comprehensive review of the district’s existing facilities, including space at Amana Elementary and the West Campus building before making a recommendation to the board was also highlighted..
Committee member Lisa Green-Douglas refuted assertions and innuendo that the previous facilities committee didn’t keep the public informed on their way to a bond issue for the construction of North Bend Elementary and the new High School. Green-Douglas said public forums were held with other opportunities for people to become informed and express themselves. She said people chose either to participate or not, noting, “Sometimes, life gets in the way.”
Board member Aimee Pitlick agreed with Green-Douglas.
“The people who wanted to know, knew,” said Pitlick.
An initial brainstorming session was postponed, but the group agreed the enrollment numbers exceed capacity and therefore action of some kind will be necessary. The committee members asked for time to process the data before creating an informed list of options, particularly a short list of three or four. Ultimately the committee will make a recommendation to the school board. If the board decides to pursue a bond referendum, holding a vote in the scheduled September election would be the most cost-effective for the district, and coincides with the tentative timeline suggested by the Iowa Association of School Boards recommended Iowa Construction Advocate Team (ICAT), which has been working with the CCA board for several months on an informal basis.
Board member Bob Broghammer said he didn’t feel ready for such a short list and reiterated his December statement that he wants as many ideas as possible now, which can be whittled down later.
CCA Middle School Principal Brad Fox reminded the group, “we can’t build fast enough to keep up with the enrollment numbers.” He suggested the group may have to look at a series of emergency plans, such as the classroom addition at North Bend and utilizing space at Amana Elementary.
The committee has scheduled its next meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 6:30 p.m. in the Clear Creek Elementary School cafeteria for the purpose of clarifying points for discussion with the public, and to hold an initial brainstorming session. The meeting is open to the public.