North Hills outlines plan to move 6th graders to middle school building to make room for growing elementary enrollment
North Hills school officials can’t know for sure how many school-age kids will move into the district over the next several years.
But demographic predictions indicate that within a year or so, the district will being running out of room in its four elementary schools to handle the influx of new pupils.
To address the problem, Superintendent Pat Mannarino is recommending that sixth-graders be moved out of the grade-school buildings and attend classes in the middle school.
Depending on enrollment, the move is expected to open up four classrooms in each of the elementary buildings.
“This is a capacity issue, we’re running out of capacity in three of our four elementary schools,” he said during a presentation before the school board on Jan. 24. “It really comes down to moving sixth grade to the building where there’s room for them.”
The superintendent said the lack of space is “not a crisis now” so he is recommending that the move occur at the start of the 2020-21 school year.
He predicts there should be enough capacity in the elementary buildings to deal with the projected number of incoming students next year.
But if the numbers grow beyond those estimates, the district will have to implement a contingency plan that includes assigning students who move into the district after June 1 to a building outside their assigned attendance area.
Demographic studies commissioned by the district indicate that the increase in school-age population will continue through 2025.
The superintendent said the plan to move the sixth grade was made possible because district security measures implemented in the past several years resulted in a dozen classrooms going unused at the middle school.
To reduce the risk to students, middle-and high-school students no longer are permitted to move between the two buildings for classes, which are situated on the same campus.
The middle school, which is the district’s largest building, also gained classroom space when it was last remodeled.
Mannarino said even th0ugh the sixth grade would be attending classes in the same building as seventh and eighth graders, there would be little or no interaction between the students during the day.
The plan also calls for leaving “the elementary model intact, which means its going to look just like it does in the elementary schools. Just in a different building,” he said.
The estimated cost of implementing the change is $835,000 a year to cover the salary and benefits for an assistant principal; school counselor; nine teachers; and two support staff.
A number of parents who attended Thursday’s meeting sought details about how the transition might affect students.
Mannarino said the administration will use the year leading up to the move to work with teachers and parents to develop the intricate details of the plan such as scheduling transportation and after school activities.
Following the presentation, school board President Ed Wielgus said circumstances limit what the district can feasibly due to address the problem.
“Unless some miracle happens, I don’t know that we have another option at this point,” he said.
The school board is expected to vote in February on whether to proceed with the plan.
A video of the superintendent’s presentation as well as links to supporting documents are available online .
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368 or [email protected] or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.