By Heather Mullinix
Removing portable classrooms and adding to existing schools is a better way to meet the needs of the school system in coming years, according to members of the Cumberland County Board of Education's building and grounds committee.
With population projections showing only a small amount of growth in the next seven years, Sandy Brewer, 3rd District representative, said, "I'd like to see us make priority of getting our students out of portables. Personally, before I would look at building another school, I'd look at additions to our schools.
"How can these figures justify going to the county commission and asking for funding for a new school?"
Vivian Hutson, 6th District representative, said, "Well, we couldn't. There wouldn't be kids to go there and there wouldn't be funding."
Hutson presented enrollment figures with projections through 2020, with figures provided by the Tennessee Department of Health, Office of Policy, Planning and Assessment, Division of Health Statistics. That data finds the kindergarten through eighth grade population will increase by only 130 students from 2012 to 2020. Hutson also provided data on historical enrollment figures at each of the county's elementary schools from the 2006-'07 school year to the current year. Overall, the county has seen a decrease of about 200 students in that time.
"With the decrease in enrollment, we won't get any more money," Hutson said, explaining the state wouldn't provide a great deal of additional funds for operation of a new school. "And you're talking about a new faculty and new bus routes."
Crab Orchard has increased seven students in that time, with 413 enrolled this year. That's up 56 students from the 2010-'11 school year. The school has a capacity of 470 students. Two portable classrooms are currently in use, with one serving the pre-kindergarten program and one serving the teen living program.
There is room for additions to the school, Hutson said, and the school is in need of an updated, handicap-accessible gymnasium.
Brown Elementary has a current enrollment of 473, with a capacity of 665 students. The school has seen a decrease of 61 students since the 2006-'07 school year, but increased 15 students from the last school year.
Homestead Elementary has 661 students enrolled this year, down 104 students from the 2010-'11 school year. The school has a capacity of 780 students without the use of portables. There are five portables on the campus. Three are used for classrooms, one for a daycare program and one for storage.
Martin Elementary has an enrollment of 682 students this year, down 77 students from the 2009-'10 school year. The school has a capacity of 770 students and has no portable classrooms in use.
North Cumberland Elementary has a capacity of 620 students, without use of portable classrooms, but has a current enrollment of 657 students. That's down 40 students from the 2007-'08 school year. There are seven portables at the school in use as classroom facilities.
The facility at North could be easily expanded, Bowman said. In addition to more classroom space, said David Bowman, 7th District representative, the school needed to be rebricked and was in need of a new roof.
"We need to take care of what we've got. If we do, it will last a lot of years and save millions," he said.
There are 196 students at Pine View Elementary with a capacity for 350 students. The enrollment at the school has remained steady from 2006 to the current school year.
Pleasant Hill Elementary has an enrollment of 537 students and a capacity of 700 students. That enrollment is down 75 students from the 2009-'10 school year. There is one portable at the school.
South Cumberland has 668 students enrolled this year, down 25 students from the 2010-'11 school year. Without using portable classrooms, the school can accommodate 620 students. There are seven portables at the school.
Stone Elementary has an enrollment of 658 students, down 21 students since the 2010-'11 school year. The school has a capacity of 665 students and no portable classrooms in use.
School capacity can be difficult to gauge because it assumes each classroom is fully utilized up to class size restraints set by the state. However, having even one student too many in a particular grade can cause a school to need an additional classroom for that grade, said Bowman.
Another issue in school capacity is the number of students attending from outside the school zone. The committee plans to look at the number of out-of-zone students at each school in coming months.
"Down the road, zoning may need to be looked at," Brewer said.
Hutson said, "I don't like to have to tell parents where to take their children. As long as there's room, I'm fine with it. But we want to get them in a building."
Brewer added building plans for the future needed to include an auditorium at Cumberland County High School.