Finally, tangible, data-driven evidence of action regarding a West Little Rock Middle School has emerged from the Little Rock School Board.
At its marathon agenda meeting of Thursday, March 14th, the board was presented actual data on enrollment, exodus, capacity, facilities and funding to begin consideration of the district’s present and future needs.
Some immediate observations…
Only Little Rock’s elementary school enrollment is growing, +234 in the past five years. Meanwhile, middle schools have lost 398 and high schools have lost 770 over the past five years.
The largest exodus of Little Rock School District students is between the fifth and sixth grades. That bleeding has increased 460% over the past four years.
Of the district’s portfolio of 48 buildings, 32 are elementary, 7 are middle, 5 are high school, and 3 are alternative. Only four schools, all elementary (Forest Park, Mabelvale, Pulaski Heights and Roberts), are essentially at or above building capacity. Under capacity ranges from Woodruff Elementary’s 29 to Hall’s 782.
Because of capacity issues, PreK has been discontinued at Roberts, Otter Creek and Pulaski Heights, though according to the district’s 2012-13 figures, Otter Creek is 104 under capacity.
The only new facilities to appear on the district’s capital projects wish list are West Little Rock Middle School ($40 Million) and McClellan High School Replacement ($58 Million). That begs the question: If a middle school is built in West Little Rock, where then will those students go to high school? Or, is the District content to simply shift the exodus from fifth to ninth grades?
Of course, all of this is contingent upon the passage of a millage increase. With a millage rate of 46.40 on total assessment of $3.285 Billion already among the highest among districts of comparable size and those in the area, the question becomes, will the community support an increase?
Why the sudden acceleration and sunshine on planning? Interim Superintendent Dr. Morris Holmes’ imminent departure on March 22nd? New Superintendent Dr. Dexter Suggs’ selection and soon-to-be announced start date (he was in attendance last night, by the way)? Central office employees’ demonstrating their bonafides for the new boss? Coming board elections? Parents’ emergent assertion of individual and collective leadership in the good governance of their public schools?
Whatever the reason, it’s a welcome change from the anecdotal explanations offered by the board and administration over the past three years.
We look forward to our freshly minted, passionate-about-data, rigor-oozing, performance-driven superintendent getting his turnaround-artist fingerprints all over any plan before even thinking about going to the voters for new money.