Projections of increased enrollment could force Darien Public Schools to increase the number of sections or look for alternative places for classrooms.
In his preliminary budget considerations for 2013 to 2015, which was presented at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday Superintendent Stephen Falcone said the increase in enrollment has the potential to strap the schools' ability to provide enough space. Last year, the administration under-projected enrollment, according to Falcone, coming in five sections below what became the actual numbers on Aug. 1 -- 110 students in kindergarten through grade five sections and six students in the early learning program sections.
Sections refer to the number of classes and the early learning program is for pre-kindergarten students.
"We kind of knew that we would probably tip in a couple of places but we didn't know we would tip as much as 110," Falcone said.
More students are expected at the elementary school next year, and "where those students attend school is of particular importance," according to Falcone's report.
For the 2013-14 school year, Falcone said there shouldn't be a need for additional staffing, but there is a projected increase in sections over the next few years, based on the absorption rate, or how many students the school can accept before it has to make a new section.
"We have a Board of Education policy that says that on Aug. 1 we make a determination as to how many sections we'll have based on the number of students enrolled," Falcone said during a phone interview.
In kindergarten and first grade, the maximum class size is 23 students. So, on Aug. 1 the administration is required to look at how many students are enrolled and determine how many sections to create in each grade.
Falcone said the problem is, based on the projections, in certain schools absorbing one more student than expected will cause a new section.
"So let's say on July 31 at one of the schools I have 69 students in a kindergarten classroom," Falcone said. "How many can I absorb so I don't have to open another section? I can absorb none because on the afternoon of July 31 if another student comes to me and says they're enrolled that gives me 70 students, which means I would have 23 students, 23 students, and 24 students."
According to the projections, kindergarten through fifth grade are expected to have 114 sections in 2013-2014; 117 sections in 2014-2015; and 118 sections in from 2012 through 2018.
These numbers do not include ELP students.
"That poses a dilemma for us," Falcone said. "We have new students coming to us and we have people coming from all over, and we've seen that trend increase. For us to consider staffing, and kind of on a corollary basis, we have to be conscious of these numbers."
In Falcone's preliminary budget considerations for 2013-14 he said these numbers are not set in stone and that they will continue to be reviewed along with facility usage. If Darien has 117 kindergarten through fifth-grade sections in 2014-15, there will be no space for ELP, according to the report.
"We're going to be close to out of space for K-5 programs," Falcone said. "We need the space to preserve our ELP programs, and we have to look at every solution possible to preserve ELP."
If the space in the elementary schools and the middle school is maxed out, the administration said it would have to consider alternative sites to deliver programs. Currently under consideration are the former library site at 35 Leroy, the current senior center, and current school buildings to determine how to best accommodate growth in enrollment.
The administration is also considering using consultants to help determine the best approaches when preparing for the increased enrollment. Hiring consultants could cost $50,000, according to the administration.
Other budget considerations for 2013-14 include the replacement of the oil tanks at the elementary schools; the current technology plan, which has costs slightly more than $400,000 projected; revenue; money spent on curriculum and professional development; the new common core standards, which will include a difference in standardized testing; and a state mandate regarding the teacher evaluation system, which will increase the number teacher observations regarding their evaluations.
The increased enrollment projections along with the increased number of teacher observations may require some additional administrative support and software to help track and record observations be included in the 2013-2014 budget.
BOE Chairman Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross said the board obviously has a lot of work ahead of it.
"We'll leave no stone unturned in what we're going to look at and how we're going to look at it," Hagerty-Ross said.
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