Schools eventually have to grow wings

Published February 16, 2007

As FishHawk Ranch keeps growing, schools in the family-friendly development are being strained.

Add to that the need for more classrooms to comply with a class-size law that takes effect in December 2008, and plans to add new wings at schools are almost inevitable.

Across the county, 42 schools will get new wings of 10 to 24 classrooms that will cost $1-million to $4-million each and $220-million overall.

School district officials this week began a series of public workshops to present the plans and take questions from residents. Construction of the additions will begin this summer with completion expected for the 2008-09 school year.

The 2002 class-size reduction amendment required phased compliance beginning in 2003. By the 2008-2009 school year, class sizes must drop to 18 students for prekindergarten through third grade, 22 students for grades 4 through 8, and 25 students for grades 9 through 12.

"2008 comes in and, for class-size reduction, you have to have 18 in a room. If you get number 19, you've got to have another teacher," said Pamela Bush, principal of FishHawk Creek Elementary School in Lithia.

Bush opened FishHawk Creek in 2004 with 550 students. Today, there are 970 students in a building with capacity for 876 under the class-size requirement.

The 10 new classrooms will bring the school's capacity to 1,056 and eliminate three portables used by kindergarteners.

At Lithia's Randall Middle School, 10 new classrooms will replace portables.

That's good news to Randall band teacher Cyndi Burchfield, whose kids are in sixth and eighth grades.

"I have a child out here in portables right now," she said. "She doesn't seem to mind. ... But, as a parent, I don't like her out there."

The additions are mostly meant to address current overcrowding rather than accommodate future growth, officials said.

"Some schools [will] still be overcrowded until we can open another school," said Lorraine Duffy-Suarez, the district's growth-management chief.

Only two of the schools discussed at Monday's meeting - Bevis and FishHawk Creek elementary schools - might see boundary changes, said Steve Ayers, director of pupil administrative services.

Those changes will come not because of the classroom additions, but with a new school to be built near the planned 3,200-home Lake Hutto development.

The new elementary school is expected to open in 2009 and will likely affect the boundaries for Boyette Springs Elementary as well. A middle school that is expected to affect Randall's boundaries is on the same time line.

Newsome High will gain 24 classrooms, adding capacity for another 570 students.

Earlier this year, it had 2,094 students in a building that, under the class size restrictions, should hold 2,053. Pulte Homes, the developer of Lake Hutto, will contribute $3-million to the $4-million Newsome addition.

FishHawk Ranch resident Bill Sperling doesn't think it's enough.

"We feel there should be a second elementary school and a high school in the plan. And even that may not be sufficient for what's happening, because we can see what we have now isn't sufficient."


If you go

Making room

The next meeting to discuss new school wings is 5-7 p.m. Tuesday at Riverview High School, 11311 Boyette Road. School additions to be discussed include Riverview and East Bay high schools; Collins, Corr, Cypress Creek, Frost and Summerfield elementary schools; and Eisenhower, Shields and Giunta middle schools.