Fact Check No. 1: Steamboat school district capacity and enrollment
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Over the four weeks leading up to the Nov. 5 election, Steamboat Pilot & Today will publish a “Fact Check” series on key topics related to the Steamboat Springs Board of Education’s proposed $79.5 million bond and associated mill levy.
While there will always be some numbers open to interpretation (especially when it comes to things like projecting future growth), our intent is to stick to the facts and provide voters with the best information available.
The series will cover capacity and enrollment, out-of-district students, demographics, traffic studies, construction costs, priority projects, preschool options, teacher salaries and tax impact.
If there are specific questions within those areas or other topics you would like to see addressed, email reporter Kari Harden at kharden@SteamboatPilot.com with “fact check” in the subject line.
There is no guarantee we will be able to cover every submission, but all feedback is welcome and will be taken into consideration.
How is school capacity calculated?
The Steamboat Springs School District calculates capacity based on number of classrooms and staffing in terms of optimal class size. For elementary school (K-5), the target is 20 students per classroom. For middle school (6-8) and high school (9-12), it is 25 students per classroom. There is one licensed teacher per classroom.
Why are smaller class sizes preferable?
There are arguments — and research to back them — on both sides of the debate of just how much class size matters. Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks points to what the community wants. In a community survey conducted by the district in November 2018, 77% of those polled said maintaining smaller class sizes was either a major or moderate concern. Meeks also points to the public support of the half-cent education sales tax. The tax, which is primarily dedicated to teacher salaries and maintaining small class size, was renewed in 2018 with more than 85%t of the vote.
What isn’t reflected in the capacity numbers?
Much of the overcrowding described by school staff in recent years concerns common areas: hallways, cafeterias, counselor offices, group learning, science labs, special education classrooms, bathrooms, lockers and libraries.
For example, at Strawberry Park Elementary School, the gymnasium also functions as the cafeteria and an auditorium. Previously, students sat down and ate lunch in a partitioned section of the gymnasium. Today, there are too many students to eat in the gym, so they pick up their lunch in the divided gym and then go sit down in the common area at the center of the school to eat their meal. Lunch periods last 20 minutes, and the shifts — divided by grade level — beginning at 11 a.m. and ending at 1:10 p.m.
The capacity size does not include modular buildings. There are currently two modulars at Soda Creek Elementary School being used for classrooms and one at Strawberry Park used for storage.
Steamboat Springs Middle School recently saw an artificial increase in capacity, Meeks said, in that four classrooms were added without adding any square footage. Existing counselor offices were remodeled into classrooms, and the counselors were relocated into the computer classrooms.
When did the district last add a school?
The new Soda Creek Elementary School opened in 2008, but it was a replacement building, not an additional school. It was nearly full as soon as it opened and was not built for growth. The district has had the same number of buildings since 1981.
What do this year’s numbers look like so far?
In terms of totals across the district, kindergarten, fourth-grade, sixth-grade and 12th-grade enrollment numbers were higher than budgeted for in June. The rest of the grade levels had an Oct. 1 count lower than what was anticipated.
The Oct. 1 total student count for the 2018-19 year was 2,638. For the 2019-20 year, it was 2,617 — 30 students less than for what was projected. The Oct. 1 enrollment numbers are not the school year’s final enrollment numbers, but they are what per-pupil funding is based upon. The per-pupil funding for the 2019-20 school year is currently estimated at $8,460; however, it will change in December/January and possibly again in June.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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