The city’s school district has added 700 new students this school year defying demographers’ estimates that the schools will be declining in population growth. The district was caught off guard just four months after it laid off more than 360 district employees.
“That was growth we did not expect,” said state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans on Wednesday evening. He said demographers who worked on the five-year facilities plan reckoned the district would not grow in population.
The 700 students represent 2.8-percent increase in student population, said Evans. He said the increase has resulted in school principals asking for more teachers and support staff to accommodate the “unexpected” influx of pupil. With the layoffs of May the district has been operating with less teachers, according to district officials.
Evans said the problem was exacerbated by 535 resignations and retirements since July 1st, 2015. “That is significant and many more than we expected,” said Evans. “That puts us in a situation we didn’t expect to be in. We need to hire more teachers than we thought we need to,” said Evans.
Evans at the request of school principals the district will fill 68 high priority positions. The superintendent said he is freezing new contracts and all non-essential hiring at the district office. He also said approved but unimplemented contracts will also be frozen to free up funds to hire additional teachers.
Parents, teachers, and students speaking during the meeting said classrooms have become overcrowded and in some cases substitute teachers are teaching courses.
School board members were left scratching their heads at the rapid student growth. Many criticized the firm that conducted the study that said the city’s school district would not see much growth in the coming years.
The Hilliard, OH-based DeJong Richter conducted the five-year facilities plan that looked at the district’s demographic and population growth.
“I’m just really disturbed,” said school board member Christopher Irving. “An increase of 700 is not an oversight –that’s a lapse.”
Irving said the forecasting was flawed.
Evans said professional demographers conducted the study based on historical date. He said for the past few years the district’s student growth was steady and the increases were slight.
“It is mathematically almost impossible for someone to be that far off to not be able to account for 700 kids,” said Irving. “I’m just dumbfounded it just doesn’t make any sense.”
“We’re talking about 700 students, that’s an entire school,” said Manny Martinez, school board member. “We underestimated the amount of an entire school.”
Evans said there are no excuses, but said the district has difficulty predicting the number of immigrants who will arrive in the district. “That really was the biggest area of growth,” he said. “Last year we didn’t have that many.”
“That overcrowds the schools beyond imagination,” remarked Corey Teague, school board member.
School board member did not think the issue could be addressed by freezing the budget. “We’re not going to be able to freeze our way out of this crisis here,” said Errol Kerr, school board member. “This is not something we’re prepared for.”
Irving said he didn’t think imposing a freeze this early in the school year is unwise.
School board president Jonathan Hodges said he suspected something was amiss when he saw a packed house at a district’s registration office.
The district drastically reduced its budget by laying off 363 employees earlier in the year.
“Let’s remember we’ve been illegally underfunded by the state,” said school board president Jonathan Hodges.
He said the state’s flat funding of the district has resulted in the layoffs and the current crisis as the district scrambles to gather funds to hire more teachers. He suggested the massive layoff resulted in a loss for the district as teachers, who obtained professional development and training at the district, were forced to go and take their new skills elsewhere.
“We now have to go hire new people, who by the way, if they are in the market in September it’s because other people didn’t want them,” said Hodges.