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Dorinda White, the attendance coordinator for the Madison City School District, gave a presentation on the school district's student population growth at Thursday's school board meeting. RECORD PHOTO/JOHN FEW

Student growth rate in Madison City schools continue to climb

MADISON – The problem is clear, say Madison City School officials. Schools throughout the district simply need more space, teachers, buses, support staff and resources to handle a growing influx of students. The school district has increased by 1603 students over the past four years, with the greatest rate of growth occurring within the past 11 months.

Dorinda White, the attendance coordinator for the school district, told school board members Thursday night that schools throughout Madison are growing at an astonishing rate.

“Over the past four years we have added enough students to populate a high school campus,” White said. “We have averaged about two new students every day over the past four years. That’s huge.”

The student growth equates to adding approximately 80 additional teaching units which adds up to about $6 million over the course of the four years.

During the past eleven months alone, the district grew by almost 600 students. White said within the past week, the district has already enrolled eight more students. “They want to be in Madison City schools. They don’t care there are only four weeks left,” she said.

Residential growth is to blame. It’s a good problem to have, as more people are drawn to this area for the top-rated school district, low crime rate, good jobs and recreational opportunities. But, it leaves school officials wondering how they are going to make preparations for the growth ahead and how to accommodate more students.

“We are putting them anywhere we can,” Madison City Schools Superintendent of Education Robby Parker said. “We are making any decision we can make to utilize space the best we can.”

Parker said some schools are using special gyms to hold certain classes and incorporating rooms originally meant for other purposes. Administrators are doubling up and sharing offices so they can have more enough rooms to accommodate more students.

One measure approved by the schools board Thursday that would also help with overcrowding at Mill Creek Elementary School, is splitting the Early Beginning Pre-K students between two school campuses. The students zoned for Bob Jones will be moved to Rainbow Elementary where there is more room, while those zoned for James Clemens will remain at Mill Creek.

While the change will help open up some additional space at Mill Creek, the problem is too large to temporarily head off for long.

“Our elementary students have grown by approximately 60 students per grade level in just one year,” White said. “That’s huge to us because it’s normally been about 30 students per grade level each year.”

White said the growth has been evident throughout all of the schools in Madison. “It is across the system,” she said. “I see tremendous growth at Horizon, at West Madison. Heritage has more growth right now than anyone.”

Madison’s population has grown from about 42,000 in 2010 to nearly 50,000 today. School board president Ranae Bartlett said the city council has been helpful in slowing down some residential building growth and annexations, but more phases of existing subdivisions are coming online soon.

“When they initially approved the subdivisions they have now, they approved many phases for some of them. They are constantly building,” she said.

But, it has not just been Madison’s growth affecting student growth. Triana has begun to see growth as well. Because Triana students attend Madison City schools, their growth affects school population numbers in Madison.

“Triana just annexed an area from Beadle Road to Howard Murphy Drive,” said school board member and former Triana councilman Louis Ferrer. “We are talking approximately 100 to 200 houses, depending on how it is zoned. If they were to put an apartment complex on that property it could be more.”

“Triana has seen huge growth this year,” White added. “We have had to add buses to accommodate the students coming from there.”

Cracking down on out-of-district students

With the overcrowding problem prevalent in several of the schools in Madison, registration has become stricter.

“We know that classrooms are crowded, so in the past two years we have been very diligent with proof of residency requirements,” White said. “We are being very proactive when we let students in. For instance, we have over 3000 kids on leases. Leases can expire anytime. We have about 300 that expire each month. Every single month we are diligent to say, ‘Hey, your lease expired. We just need to get your new lease and latest utility bill’. By staying on top of this, we have found approximately 131 students who have moved out of zone and could not produce a current lease and we withdrew them this year.”

White said they are working any leads to track down any out-of-district students trying to attend Madison schools.

“The lengths people will go to get into our school district is amazing to me,” said school board member Connie Spears. “People will even forge leases. We want them to come, but they have to live here.”

“A very critical vote”

School officials know that measures like moving part of the Pre-K students to Rainbow, and cracking down on out-of-district students, may amount to plugging a hole on a cracking dam. A more lasting solution is needed.

According to Parker and the school board, that solution can be found within a proposed property tax increase voters will soon have the opportunity to vote for or against. They are hoping voters in Madison and Triana will pass the 12-mill increase so the district can add a new middle school and elementary school to alleviate overcrowding. A 12-mil would add $120 annually in property tax per $100,000 value of a home.

Parker has proposed building a new elementary school on 20 acres of land the school district already owns next to the Kroger on Wall Triana Highway. It will hold about 900 students.

He also proposed building a new middle school, which will hold 1,200 students in grades six to eight. It would be built behind the central office on Celtic Drive.

Bob Jones and James Clemens would see some additions to handle growth at the high school level.

“If the tax passes, my recommendation is that we move to get these schools built for 2021,” Parker said.

“We are marching towards a very critical vote,” Bartlett said Thursday.

Regardless of whether a tax increase for new schools passes, the school district’s rate of growth will remain. “I see it continuing at this rate or greater for the next few years,” White said. “When you look at the development that is happening now around us, it makes these numbers even more significant. Enrollment at most fast growing school districts within the state increases about 150 students per year. We are almost at 600.”

A look at the numbers

Here’s a look at the numbers presented to the Madison City School board Thursday night:

Over the past four years, from May 2015 to April 2019, the school district has grown by 1603 students. That includes an increase of 724 elementary students – grades pre-k through 5th grade. There were 378 students added at the middle school level for 6th grade, 7th grade and 8th grade. At the high school level, grades 9 through 12, there were 501 students add.

That averages to about 400 students per year, but when you look at growth over the past 11 months, it shows the rate of growth is increasing.

There were 584 students added to the school district since this time last year. Most grades experienced an increase, except 6th, 8th and 12th.

There were 385 students added at the elementary school level, accounting for over 53% of the four year total. It is at the elementary level where school officials estimate more room for middle school classes will be needed as those kids move up. They also speculate a new high school will be needed in the not-so-distant future.

At the middle school level, there has been 57 students added since last year; and in high school there were 142 students added.

White said that she expects the rate of growth they have seen this past year to continue. “The scary thing to me is at this rate we will reach 1600 more students within three years, not four.”

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