Committee Pondering Fix for School Space Crunch That May Increase FDK Offerings
The School Committee plans to vote on a short-term fix for space needs by the end of January.
Schools officials say they are inclined to build 24 modular classrooms at the elementary level, a temporary solution for Braintree's space issues that could eliminate the possibility of re-districting and may prove more feasible than opening a kindergarten center.
Superintendent Dr. Peter Kurzberg laid out several options to moderate class sizes and free up room for expected enrollment increases during the Monday night School Committee meeting.
Each possibility has its drawbacks, but Dr. Kurzberg said he prefers the addition of four modular classes at each of Braintree's six elementary schools. Unlike re-opening the Monatiquot School, building the temporary space would rely mostly on capital expenditures and may be partially funded by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
"This would be the permanent solution, at least for a while," Dr. Kurzberg said.
Braintree has been wrestling for several years with problems associated with increasing enrollment. Schools have turned media centers, locker rooms, even hallways into classrooms, and an effort to expand full-day kindergarten in home schools is in jeopardy due to lack of space.
An influx of young families – what Mayor Joseph Sullivan calls "a good problem to have" – has added more than 600 students in grades K-12 over the last 10 years, according to data from the New England School Development Council. During that time Braintree also closed two elementary schools.
"From all indications, we're going to continue to grow," Dr. Kurzberg said. "Though maybe not at the rate we have."
Enrollment is projected to increase to 5,922 from 5,570 over the next five years. For next fall, that would mean larger-than-preferred class sizes at some schools and in some grades, and five sections for the first time in decades in first grade at Liberty Elementary, Dr. Kurzberg said.
Parents continue to register their children for kindergarten this week, and Dr. Kurzberg said he will have a better idea of September enrollment after that process is complete.
One potential casualty of the space crunch is the full-day kindergarten initiative, which began in 2011-2012 with three classrooms with 60 students at Braintree High School and grew this year to include classrooms at Flaherty, Hollis and Morrison.
If nothing is done to address space, Dr. Kurzberg said that BHS could be the only offering next year. Extra modular classrooms would most likely produce enough space at each school to allow the district to offer full-day kindergarten to "most people who would want it," he said. It would still include a fee because of associated personnel costs.
The superintendent stressed, though, that coming up with a solution is intended to relieve space stress throughout the elementary level, not soley to free up room for full-day kindergarten.
Pam Kiley, a longtime proponent of the program and of opening a kindergarten center at Monatiquot School, said she has "never been a fan of modular classrooms" and would prefer to build permanent additions.
Calling full-day kindergarten at BHS "phenomenal," Morrison parent Ellen Stenmon encouraged school officials Monday night to continue offering the program. Her daughter Lauren attended the inaugural session last year and her son Sean enters kindergarten next fall.
"She needed more, she needed that structure," Stenmon said of her daughter. "I feel very strongly that full-day kindergarten is very important for our kids."
Stenmon's concern about driving from Morrison to the high school if her son joins the program next year was echoed by Dr. Kurzberg, who said the modular classroom option would allow parents to keep their children at the same home school and avoid confusing transportation problems.
"I really don't see a negative in adding two dozen classrooms," Mayor Sullivan said. "It eliminates the need for re-districting."
Committee members will likely vote on an option at their next meeting, Jan. 28 at Braintree High School. Under that timeline, the district would be able to put the modular classrooms in place by September, or shortly thereafter, Dr. Kurzberg said.
For more details on the space solutions, visit this article: http://braintree.patch.com/articles/school-space-options-include-modular-classrooms-monatiquot-center.
Correction: Braintree closed two, not three, schools over the last 10 years. Foster actually closed more than two decades ago, according to Dr. Kurzberg. He did not have a more specific date immediately available.