IW schools hold forum on student growth

Published 9:42 am Wednesday, February 21, 2018

What is the appropriate average class size for elementary, middle and high school students in Isle of Wight County? How long is too long on a school bus? Should all students who live in the Smithfield area go to Smithfield High School or is it acceptable to bus some of them down to Windsor? How many prefabricated trailer classrooms are too many?

These were all questions that IWCS Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton posed to parents and other community stakeholders on Monday, Feb. 12 during a public forum on how to best manage student population growth within the county. The forum was held at 6 p.m. in the Windsor High School cafeteria.

According to Lynn Briggs, Isle of Wight County Schools’ director of community and media relations, one of the main factors that led up to this discussion was the surge in student populations seen at both of the division’s high school’s this past September. Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton had informed the school board during their September meeting that Windsor High School had over 37 new students enroll since the first day of classes this school year, and Smithfield’s student population had a net increase of 73.

Another factor that led up to this discussion were plans in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan for a new K-5 elementary school to be built in the northern end of the county. Thornton said that the plan, which was put in place several years ago, was based on a division-wide study of anticipated growth, based upon the division’s then-current student population, the percentage of students that move from one grade to another, and births.

With the unanticipated surge in high school student populations, division administrators are now questioning the accuracy of the study on the grounds that it did not factor in new housing developments like Benn’s Grant. This has left administrators wondering if a new elementary school is still the most urgent of the division’s space needs.

“If we build this new K-5, what happens to Westside?” Thornton asked. “Do those grade levels change? Are we going to shift them over to Windsor?”

Currently Windsor and Carrsville are the only K-5 elementary schools in the county. Hardy and Carrollton are K-3 and Westside is 4-6. As such, the county’s middle schools are also structured differently. Smithfield is currently only for grades 7 and 8, while Georgie D. Tyler is 6-8.

Another question discussed was, if a new K-5 elementary school was, in fact, still needed, how much would taxpayers be willing to pay for it. Thornton said that the approximate cost of the proposed new K-5 school would be around $36 million, which he said could be paid for with just a six-cent tax increase.

The current tax rate, he said, is 85 cents per $100, meaning that the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $850 in county real estate taxes per year. The owner of a $300,000 home would pay around $2,550. If the six-cent tax increase were to be implemented, the owner of a $300,000 home would pay an additional $180 per year.

Part of the presentation included a series of maps of each of the county’s schools, with any unused space available to become a classroom shaded in orange.

“We have one or two at Windsor Elementary and maybe two at Hardy, all the other buildings, all their spaces are being used,” Briggs said. “There’s no room to grow, even at Carrsville, which people think is small. If they grow, we’re going to have to add a teacher and a trailer.”

One parent asked Thornton about the price and practicality of using trailer classrooms. Thornton replied that one double unit, which would give a school two additional classrooms, would cost around $100,000 and could accommodate between 20-22 students. He added that there would be additional costs of up to $200,000 to hook up all the necessary technology, for a total cost of $300,000 per trailer, and that in his experience as a school administrator, there were also safety concerns with using trailers, such as how to secure them in the event of a hurricane or tornado.

The meeting concluded with division staff directing all attendees to complete a survey, which asked many of these same questions. The online version of the survey closed on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 11:55 p.m.