Task force looks at overcrowding in Austin schools

Published 8:30 am Tuesday, December 21, 2010

There are currently about 21 community members signed up for the Austin Public Schools’ Facilities Task Force, the community group that will look at possible solutions to the district’s impending overcrowding issues that will take place within the next five years.

The district’s student population has been on an upswing since 2002. Yet district officials had no idea they’d be experiencing such dramatic growth within the next couple years, thanks to a demographic study done last year.

A recent facility usage report found every school except for Austin High School over capacity.

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“We’re probably 300 to 400 kids over at Ellis over the next five years, and the same at the elementary,” District Superintendent David Krenz said.

All options are on the table, from switching grades to different buildings to district boundary changes. Renovating and converting facility space, creating possible additions and building a new school are also options, although it will be up to the task force to weigh these possibilities.

Community members can still sign up to take part in the committee, however. The district will take up to 30 members from all walks of life. District officials said city, county, Chamber of Commerce and Riverland Community College representatives have signed up to be part of the task force, as well as high school students, school board members and student parents. District officials hope several senior citizens will step forward to be on the task force, as they feel there aren’t enough seniors on the committee to represent Austin’s senior population.

District officials will set meeting times for the task force soon after the new year. Although they believe two meetings a month should be enough for a task force to deal with the issues, it will be difficult to get everyone together on a common night.

“We think the work can be done at a couple meetings a month, but you don’t know,” Krenz said. “It might change depending on what the committee feels.”

Task force members would have to come up with realistic solutions to the space issues the district has, as almost all district schools are currently over capacity, with the exception of Austin High School. Because of this, the task force must create solutions for students at the kindergarten, elementary and middle school level only.

This group will present a recommendation to the district board by its May meeting, possibly giving a presentation at the April special session. The board and the district would then have the summer to further research and perform cost-benefit analyses to see whether the task force’s recommendation would be beneficial to the district. The board and district would also have to consider if the recommendation is in line with the district’s strategic planning over the next five years.

The school board has until September to accept or work out another plan, as the board has the final decision on whatever solution the district implements. September is the latest a proposal can be approved by the board, in case the district has to put forth a levy referendum to the community to pay for whatever solution is approved, according to Krenz.

People interested in participating in the task force should contact the district office at 460-1900.