Fresh look at enrollment data reveals trouble for 4/5 Academy
This story has been updated.
Decatur Superintendent David Dude said he was always bothered by something he noticed in City Schools of Decatur’s enrollment projections.
The numbers, produced by the Sizemore Group consulting firm, show Kindergarten enrollment is expected to drop by about 60 students next year. Dude said he had a hard time reconciling that with what he knows about current enrollment trends in Decatur.
“This has bothered me since I got here. It has bothered me before I got here,” Dude told Decaturish in a recent interview. “From what we know about the district that does not make sense. But this is an artifact of how enrollment projections are done. Birth rate is a big indicator for Kindergarten enrollment, and in most situations that’s sufficient, but Decatur’s really unique with the fact that we’re this four square miles with massive influx of people moving in with young families.”
Dude went back and did his own projections, combining the Sizemore projections with linear enrollment trends. His efforts revealed a that the 4/5 Academy at Fifth Avenue, which houses all of CSD’s fourth and fifth grade students, will need more than 16 additional classrooms by 2020.
“So 4/5 is a huge problem,” Dude said.
The superintendent said he is currently seeking the opinion of another consulting firm to re-examine the enrollment trends and provide a school-by-school breakdown. Dude warned against what he called the “illusion of precision” when it comes to enrollment calculations. Just because a school shows a deficit of classrooms, it does not mean students are learning in the hallways. Some class sizes will be larger, or the enrollment is dealt with via scheduling, he said.
Last November, Decatur residents overwhelmingly approved a $75 million bond for school construction. The list of projects included a new elementary school as well as additions to the middle and high schools. The superintendent noted that even when the School Board was discussing putting the bond on the ballot, the board acknowledged the bond would not provide enough money to fully fund the expansions needed to match the enrollment projections. The needs at 4/5 were not widely discussed during that conversation.
“4/5 I think is a newly discovered issue from what I know,” Dude said. “I don’t think we realized quite how bad the situation was at 4/5.”
Currently 4/5 is already short by more than four classrooms, which CSD has compensated for by using bigger class sizes. Dude said long-term solutions include adding more space at 4/5, or building a new 4/5 academy somewhere, possibly having one in the north side of Decatur and one in the south side.
One idea that has been suggested by many parents since 4/5 came into existence is the idea of converting all K-3 schools back into K-5 schools. Dude said he’s open to that discussion, if parents want to have it, but said that won’t be an easy solution.
“Moving to a K-5 system again and re-purposing all of the existing schools to K-5, I’m not sure it’s worth the effort it would take to solve that issue,” Dude said. “That’s a big heavy lift to go back to a K-5 system.”
He said funding for additional 4/5 space could come from other sources, like a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST.
“I don’t want to speculate too much because I want to make sur we get that second set of numbers,” he said.
Dude is also trying to balance capacity in other schools. He said building an elementary school to house all of the students who won’t fit into the existing schools would require constructing a 600-student elementary school, which he doesn’t think anyone in the district wants. He said CSD is currently considering a 400-student elementary school at the property it has under contract on Talley Street. His projections show schools on the south side of Decatur will be over capacity by an entire grade level, or 260 third grade students. That’s a deficit of about 15 classrooms. Capacity in the north side of Decatur won’t be quite as strained. It will be over capacity by 117 students, or 5.6 classrooms.
Rather than forcing 200 students to attend schools in the north side of Decatur, Dude said he favors incentives for parents to voluntarily do so. One example he used is offering Spanish immersion classes at one particular school and carving out other educational niches for others.
“To me that’s one good solution because it’s voluntary,” Dude said. “Everyone knows how painful changing boundaries are.”
Here are the revised enrollment projections created by Superintendent Dude: