The only school deemed critically overcrowded is E.T. Booth Middle School in Woodstock, as it’s operating at a 112 percent capacity if portable classrooms are taken into account, according to district officials. Without them, the overflow would rise to 173 percent.
Booth is on schedule for replacement, and that development may cause Chapman Intermediate School to transition into a ninth-grade center.
Critically overcrowded schools are defined in the district’s Board of Education policy as when a school exceeds 140 percent of its enrollment capacity. Other criteria used to determine that designation includes the use of all existing portable classrooms.
“It’s no coincidence that E.T. Booth MS is slated for replacement in the 2013-14 school year, with a larger, 1,500-student-capacity facility that will not only alleviate overcrowding there, but also at neighboring Etowah (High School) through the related plan to create a Ninth Grade Center on the joint campus (Chapman Intermediate School),” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo said in a release Wednesday.
The replacement E.T. Booth is funded by Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue and is scheduled to open next August. Petruzielo said boundary focus group meetings will be in the next few months to involve the community in preparation for the school’s opening.
“As E.T. Booth MS will transition to a grade 6-8 school from a grade 7-8 school, it has been proposed that Chapman (Intermediate School) campus be repurposed as a ninth grade center for Etowah HS; and community input will be gathered on this idea, as well,” Petruzielo said.
Chapman Principal Susan McCarthy said there has been previous discussion with district officials about the variety of uses for the building housing the county’s only intermediate school, but nothing has been finalized.
“We’re keeping an eye on the year-to-year plan at this point,” McCarthy said, noting that parents, teachers and other stakeholders have expressed interest in the upcoming boundary meetings.
Brian Hightower, assistant superintendent of school operations, said ninth-grade centers throughout the county have proved beneficial for student achievement.
“Those reform models, they want to grab that ninth-grade student and provide as much accountability as possible,” Hightower said.
Petruzielo said it should be noted that the school district has only received 17 percent of its allotted capital outlay funding from the state for the past 10 years, with a majority of schools construction costs covered by revenue from the Ed-SPLOST.
“Accordingly, we will continue to seek state funding for critically needed construction projects through the Cherokee County Legislative Delegation,” Petruzielo said.
Despite the missing state funds, the school system has seen an 88 percent reduction in the last five years in schools labeled critically overcrowded, according to Wednesday’s release.
Hightower said the Blue Ribbon Committee established in 2001, when the superintendent first came to the county, has established the district’s aggressive approach to capital improvements through the Ed-SPLOST funds.
“We have more schools now with available capacity to allow choice enrollment and choice reassignment than in the last 10 years I’ve been at the district level,” Hightower said.
Besides E.T. Booth, three other district schools tip the 100 percent capacity mark when including portables, and those are Free Home Elementary School at 102 percent, Little River Elementary School at 108 percent, and Creekland Middle School at 110 percent. Without considering portables, Free Home has the highest overcrowding at 131 percent, followed by Woodstock Middle School at 129 percent, Dean Rusk Middle School at 123 percent and Etowah at 122 percent.
“This year’s (Cherokee County Inventory of School Housing) clearly shows marked improvement in the relief of overcrowding in our schools,” Petruzielo said.
That inventory is compiled by district staff who track enrollment growth, the local real estate market, development trends, local birth rates and other demographic data year-round.
“(It’s used) so the school district can best determine where and when new and/or replacement school facilities are needed,” Petruzielo said.
District officials use data from the 20th day of classes, which was Tuesday, to determine whether or not schools are operating at critically overcrowded levels because that is when officials said enrollment usually peaks.
On Tuesday, the enrollment count for the district reached an all-time high of 39,220 students. The number is an increase of 459 students from last school year’s 20-day enrollment.
From the first day of school, the district has an additional 998 students its serving and has exceeded its projected peak enrollment of 38,295 by 295 students.