[Update: In response to the arguments in this post, my fellow board member Brian Kirschling argued that the growth at Liberty High would not climb as quickly as I estimated, because the students in the North Corridor are disproportionately in the lower grades. As a result, the board asked the administration to project class sizes by looking at the cohorts of students in the different grade levels assigned to Liberty High. Under that analysis, the projected overcrowding would not be as high as I estimate it here, though Liberty High would still be at least 9% overcrowded in 2019 (the first year it has four full classes) and would be overcrowded by over 20% by 2021, and that’s not even accounting for the expected population growth in the North Corridor. I discuss those projections in this post.]
The school board is scheduled to continue its discussion of secondary boundaries at Tuesday’s meeting. The current secondary plan is a “feeder plan”—that is, it designates particular elementary school zones to go to particular secondary schools. As a result, the actual secondary boundaries depend on the boundaries of the elementary zones, which also have to change, since the district plans to open two new elementary schools in 2019.
One thing that concerns me about the current plan is that it will result in overcrowding at Liberty High. When Liberty opens in 2017, it will be a 1000-seat high school; then, five years later, it will receive a 500-seat addition. We don’t have enrollment projections for Liberty, because its boundaries were not settled when we got our most recent projections in 2014 (and they are still not settled). But we do have enrollment projections for our current elementary attendance areas, and we know that there is significant growth projected for the schools that are designated to feed into Liberty High.
One historically reliable way to estimate how many high school students an area will have is to take the number of elementary students and divide by two. (You can see how reliable that rule of thumb is here; our enrollment projections for 2019 also show nearly exactly that ratio. I used the ratio in those projections—2.05:1—for the calculations in this post.) If anything, that rule of thumb has a tendency to slightly understate the high school population.
Under the current plan, five elementary schools feed into Liberty: Garner, Grant, Kirkwood, Penn, and Van Allen. We don’t yet know the exact boundaries for Grant, but we know that it will take at least some portion of the current Wickham zone, where the site for Grant is located. The proposals we’ve seen would put about a quarter of Wickham’s current enrollment there.
It is hard to project what enrollment at Liberty will be in its first two years, because in its first year junior and seniors in the Liberty zone will have the option to remain at West, and in the second year seniors will have that option. But by Liberty’s third year, it’s clear that the current feeder plan will result in significant overcrowding there. Under our projections, the elementary enrollment in our current Garner, Kirkwood, Penn, and Van Allen zones, plus a quarter of the Wickham zone, will be about 2583 students in 2019. That means the high school enrollment generated by those areas is likely to be roughly 1260—twenty-six percent over Liberty’s capacity. (Although the boundaries of those elementary zones could change, it is unlikely that any changes would significantly reduce the number of kids from those zones heading to Liberty.)
And that’s just the bare minimum of what we can expect in the Liberty zone. The Grant scenarios we’ve seen have also included all or part of the “North Lincoln” area, which would add about another 40-60 students to the Liberty enrollment in 2019, pushing it to 30% over capacity. These are conservative estimates; there are concerns that our projections in the North Corridor are not catching the full extent of growth that is likely to occur around Grant and Liberty, so the actual Liberty enrollment could end up even higher.
And that’s just in 2019. Liberty doesn’t get its addition until 2022, and enrollment in the area is projected to grow throughout that time. By 2021, for example—the year before Liberty gets its addition—those elementary zones, even without North Lincoln, are projected to enroll about 2862 students, which likely means almost 1400 high school students, pushing Liberty to almost 40% over capacity, and over 43% if North Lincoln is included.
At the same time, the same kind of projection applied to West High shows about 222 available seats in 2019 and 185 available seats in 2021.
I know that our capacity numbers are meant to include some margin for error—it would probably be better to call them “target enrollment” numbers—and that we can’t expect to bring enrollment at all of our buildings within capacity in the short term. Nonetheless, overages of 20% and above strike me as a concern, especially when there are seats available elsewhere.
There are similar concerns about enrollment exceeding capacity at North Central Junior High, which has a capacity of 505 and does not get an addition until 2021. It’s harder to estimate those numbers, because the current plan allows Kirkwood-area students the option to choose between North Central and North West. But even without counting Kirkwood students or North Lincoln students, North Central is likely to be over capacity in 2018.
Unlike the other areas being routed to Liberty, Kirkwood is significantly closer and more convenient to West High. A high percentage of Kirkwood-area students come from low-income families; sending those kids to more distant secondary schools adds to the difficulties they already face. The great majority of the feedback we’ve received from Kirkwood families is that they prefer to stay at West. Add the overcrowding concern, and it seems particularly unwise to route the Kirkwood area to Liberty High.
[This is the corrected version of a post that I posted earlier today. In the original version, I forgot to take account of the fact that some students would have the option to stay at West during Liberty’s first two years.]