The fast-growing Oregon School District will almost certainly be building new schools soon – the questions are where, when and how much they will cost.
The OSD board has many questions to answer before any shovels hit the dirt, but a comprehensive report from a growth task force should go a long way in providing some data, if not answers.
That group presented five options Monday night for handling an expected 50 percent increase in student enrollment in the next 12 years. All of them call for construction of at least two new schools.
Each option would call for at least one new elementary school and middle school, with various modifications to building structures and existing grade configurations.
The board will now examine the options in depth as it seeks feedback from district educators and residents and prepares for a likely referendum on new school construction as soon as this fall.
“There isn’t a community in the state that wouldn’t trade for the economic growth we have in our district,” said district superintendent Brian Busler “While it brings a few challenges, the opportunity it brings for our current and future students is just absolutely incredible, and it’s fun to be a part of that process.”
The group’s studies conclude Rome Corners Intermediate School, which houses the district’s fifth- and sixth-grade classes, will the first to exceed capacity – likely before 2020. The three elementaries and OMS would likely follow just a few years behind, with the recently expanded OHS not reaching capacity until around 2030.
“Rome Corners has a significant issue brewing with capacity,” said project consultant Mark Roffers.
While acquiring land will be a first step in the plan, he said no specific sites have been recommended; only the general growth areas of the north part of the district in Fitchburg and west of the Village of Oregon.
The 25-page “Long Range Facilities Study” is the product of more than a year’s work by a group of district educators and residents.
Board president Steve Zach lauded the “detailed and comprehensive” report as a critical component of the board’s future decision making.
“(This is) teeing it up, essentially, for us,” he said. “We’re in a position as a board now – and one that has in the past strived to be a data-driven board – to have data for us to make some informed decision and to go out and get feedback with facts, as opposed to hypotheses and anecdotes.
“We’ve got some hard work to do ahead of us, but it’s easier because of what has been submitted to us.”
Busler pointed out “three big-ticket” items for the board to complete, starting with some work sessions, engaging district staff and also district residents to determine the next steps.
He said district officials will talk with leadership teams at schools and faculty members to get their thoughts on the five options.
“We need to really hear from our schools staff on where they are in relation to grade changes and transitions,” he said.
The eventual student populations of the schools could also be an issue. While there was little discussion Monday night on the various options, task force member Carlene Bechen of the Town of Oregon, a long-time Madison educator, said increasing student populations at a middle school would be a “bad idea,” given the age of students.
OMS principal Shannon Anderson agreed, citing the problems of getting to know 900-some students.
“Middle school is so relationship-based,” she said. “The emotional support and connections they need to make are critical. That gets really hard when you have hundreds of kids and families.”
OSD officials will also be talking with The Donovan Group, which served as consultant on the last district referendums, as well as district staff to find out how to “message this to the community.” Busler joked that while “no one passed out” from hearing that the district is project to increase by 2,000 students by 2030, he said there is limited time to act to avoid overcrowding issues, noting the district will have an estimated 688 more students in three years than it does now.
“We really have some pressure associated with this decision, because you all know we don’t have enough space right now for an additional 688 students,” he said.
Noting that gubernatorial and presidential elections generally have more than twice the turnout of spring elections, Busler suggested scheduling any referendum then.
“We have one of those coming up this November,” he said. “That’s something the board will have to weigh though in the coming months.”
Zach said the board will hold an hourlong work session at its Feb. 26 meeting, looking at timelines and getting feedback on the options. He said he’d like to see a “rough guess of what this means” for taxpayers by then.
“We’ll make a decision on the 26th on where to go from there,” he said.