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Dickinson considers schedule changes to ease overcrowding

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Members of the Superintendent's Advisory Committee meet with district representatives, Tuesday, to provide input on options for alleviating overcrowding at Dickinson High School. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)

The Dickinson School District is considering several options to alleviate crowding in the high school, including schedule changes and adding portable classrooms.

After the district failed twice to pass a bond referendum to build a new high school, they're getting input from the community from the newly created Superintendent's Advisory Committee. Members of the district and school board met with members of the volunteer committee Tuesday to discuss those options, all of which include the current building.

Melanie Kathrein, director of curriculum and professional development for the district, talked committee members through each option's pros and cons, the number of students it would impact, the longevity and the cost.

Extended day

The first option presented to the committee is an extended schedule that would add class periods before (zero period) and after the current school day (fifth period).

"Those students are taking four periods in a day now, typically, so if they’re taking one period outside of that day, they’re still going to be in the building for a portion of that," Kathrein said. "Decreasing enrollment by 100 students throughout the day would require approximately 16 sections."

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Some of the pros of that option include the ability to offer additional classes and maintain class sizes. Although there would be additional operating costs, the school lists it as an inexpensive option.

"There would be a little bit of additional cost because you would have some staffing needed. Your office staff still needs to be available. You might want to have some other staff — paraprofessionals, special education staff — depending on what’s being offered, and obviously transportation for those kids who are involved with busing," Kathrein said.

Some of the cons given included a possible unwillingness of students to attend early or late classes and difficulty filling staff positions.

Split schedule

The second option was a split schedule, in which some students would attend school in the morning and some in the afternoon, splitting the day at lunch time.

"This has the potential to impact all students. It also is a viable solution that provides the space needed unless the enrollment gets over 2,200," Kathrein said. "The capacity of the high school is 1,100, so we could have 1,100 students in the morning and 1,100 students in the afternoon, and we wouldn’t be out of space."

The district sees this as a viable solution until enrollment exceeds 2,200 students.

There would likely be addition operating costs for staff and transportation, as well.

"Obviously, there is some additional costs for transportation because you’d be running transportation twice. Even if teachers are split, you’re going to have to double up on some pieces. Your office is going to have to be open. Your library would have to be open," Kathrein said.

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She said it also has the potential to impact family life and course offerings.

"You would have to be pretty strategic about what the split is, in all honesty, if you’re going to continue to offer diverse offerings," Kathrein said. "It might be something like juniors and seniors are coming in the morning; freshmen and sophomores are coming in the afternoon. You couldn’t offer all the junior and senior classes both times. You’d have to have some strategy on how you’d do that split. Families might have one child coming in the morning and one child coming in the afternoon."

Year-round schedule

Another option was increasing the length of the school year to include summers. It would create five quarters of classes instead of four, and students would attend four of the five.

"Some students would go in the summer. They would be off in what would typically be quarter one, and they’d go two through four and then summer," Kathrein said. "This could impact one-fifth of the student population. If we just take one-fifth of the student body and they’re going to attend one of their quarters in the summer, that would create some space for us."

The district estimates that such a solution would be viable through 2027-28.

Some of the cons included concern that some parents would not want their child to be out of school for part of the school year, students would not want to be in school during the summer, and the costs for transportation and staff would increase.

Online classes taken at home

"Students in this particular option could either take part of their day from home with an online class or take an entire term at home in an online format," Kathrein said. "They would have to be out of the building for a significant portion … in order for us to see it helping with the space."

She said the district conservatively estimates an increase of 85 students by the 2021-22 school year, so the school would need at least that many students to participate.

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"Every year after that, it’s going to have to increase, the number of students who are taking it. It’s a viable solution as long as we continue to increase the number of students who participate in the online format," Kathrein said.

Additional cost with that option includes online class fees, which the district estimates to be between $750 and $1,000 per person per semester. Internet access could be a barrier to some students.

Purchase and remodel an existing building

The district is also considering purchasing a building in town and having students attend some classes there for a portion of the day.

"We did reach out to a realtor to see what is available in town, is this a viable option. Currently, the buildings that are available that would have the space we need for any length of time are industrial buildings in commercial settings. The range of those buildings are about $2 million to $4.8 million just for the purchase price, which doesn’t include renovating an industrial space to a classroom space," Kathrein said.

Other buildings that are available, she said, are the age of the high school or older, so the district would need to spend more money renovating them.

This option would include additional transportation and staff costs and would include a loss of instructional time as students must travel to and from the purchased building.

Purchase portable classrooms

To meet spacing demands for an additional 85 students, they would need three classrooms. To meet estimated student enrollment, they would need an extra seven classrooms by 2025-26 and 17 by 2029-30.

"Estimated cost for the classrooms needed by 2029 would be $3.6 million if we were going to lease those structures and $4.4 million if we were going to purchase them," Kathrein said.

Community input

Assistant Superintendent Keith Harris said that the district heard after its two failed attempts to pass a bond for a new high school that the community perceived a lack of communication from the district.

"We looked for an avenue or opportunity to make sure that the community did have an opportunity to be informed and more importantly to have a voice in the ultimate decision that was made. What we’ve tried to do is share the information that we have and then give the community the opportunity to one) be educated, and two) share their opinion on a good path forward," he said.

Members of the committee had time to ask questions of the district and school board and discuss the options with one another. Afterward, they chose their top three options on a white board that included the bond referendum for a new school and "other."

Committee members placed green sticky notes for their top option, yellow for their second option and pink for their last option.

The most green notes were for the bond referendum, which had eight, followed by other, which had four, and extended school day, which had three. The top three options overall, in order, were the bond referendum, extended school day and other.

Jennifer Hughes is one of the parents on the committee. She's in favor of the bond referendum.

"I am worried about split schedule. I don’t see how that would work year-round," she said. "Also, my kids play sports. If I ended up with a student in summer semester, ultimately we’re stuck without any family time to be able to travel because the sports schedules we have to stick around for anyway. I do like the idea of an extended day, but I don’t think that’s going to fix everything."

Opponents of the bond referendum Riley Kuntz and Andrew Kordonowy are also on the committee and were in attendance. They're both in favor of having two high schools, which they listed under "other," as well as other temporary solutions.

"I put for the portables because right now that’s our most feasible solution for the problem at hand to get it done as of now. It’s definitely not a long-term solution, but for us to have the kids right now until we can find something else," Kordonowy said.

They both also support a year-round schedule.

"I think the community would be very receptive to that because it also saves on day care costs," Kordonowy said.

As for potential conflicts with sports schedules, he said those should be secondary to education.

Harris said the goal of the committee is to come up with a plan that the community would support.

"What I can tell you is everything’s on the table. We don’t have our minds made up about one particular option. The purpose of this group was to get the community together, to educate and give them a voice so that we can identify a path forward that is agreeable and acceptable to our community," he said.

No deadline has been established for reaching a solution.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONDICKINSON PUBLIC SCHOOLSDICKINSON HIGH SCHOOL
Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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