All options to ease space concerns at Sperreng would require Lindbergh redistricting

All unoccupied space at middle school converted into classrooms, principal says

By MIKE ANTHONY

All six of a committee’s recommendations to ease space concerns at Sperreng Middle School would require redistricting, according to a member of the panel.

Representatives of a 53-member Demographic Task Force comprised of parents, residents and staff members presented the six options last week to the Lindbergh Board of Education. The committee, which began meeting last fall, originally had considered more than 50 options before arriving at the six recommendations presented to the board.

During the April 15 presentation by the task force, Sperreng Middle School Principal Jennifer Tiller told the board, “… We found that research and multiple experts support 600 to 800 students as the ideal size for a middle school. Currently, Sperreng has 1,321 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students enrolled. In looking at our benchmark school districts, I found of the 23 middle schools that only two other middle schools had over 1,000 students. Six of them had below 600. Ten of them had the ideal-size recommendation of 600 to 800. Four had 800 to 1,000, and three, including Sperreng, had over 1,000 students enrolled.

“Some of the current facility constraints at Sperreng include that we have eight full-time teachers traveling currently. Our worst-case scenario is that I have three teachers sharing one classroom and serving approximately 150 students …,” Tiller said. “Further, we have converted all unoccupied space into classrooms. That includes closet spaces, faculty lounge and the custodial office. So ultimately, my bottom line is that we have no unoccupied space remaining in the building …”

The task force conducted two public forums in March at which the six options were presented along with projected costs from Executive Director of Planning and Development Karl Guyer. At the March 19 forum, Superintendent Jim Sandfort noted that a bond issue would be needed to fund whichever option is selected by the board.

The six options, including estimated costs plus advantages and disadvantages identified by the task force, are:

• Retaining Sperreng as a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school and converting Truman Elementary School to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school at a cost of $20 million to $23 million.

Advantages include a cost in the middle of the six options; school transitions staying the same for pupils; and shrinking middle-school class sizes by splitting the district’s middle-school enrollment into two schools.

Disadvantages include trying to replicate Sperreng’s qualities in another school; impacting all elementary and middle-school pupils in the district; and displacing 800 Truman Elementary pupils among the four remaining elementary schools — Crestwood, Kennerly, Long and Sappington.

Task-force members believe that increasing class size in these elementary schools would reduce those schools’ room for growth and may not be the best long-range solution.

• Retaining Sperreng as a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school, converting Truman to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school and building a new elementary school at a cost of $22 million to $34 million.

Advantages include meeting ideal elementary and middle school enrollment sizes; allowing for growth in the new elementary school; and reducing a number of transitions as 400 Truman Elementary pupils would be transferred to the new elementary school and 400 Truman Elementary pupils would be distributed among the four remaining elementary schools instead of all 800 Truman Elementary pupils being split among those four schools.

Disadvantages include its cost — “potentially one of the most expensive” of the options; the scarcity of land available to purchase and construct a new elementary school; and perceived inequality between the new elementary school and existing elementary schools.

• Converting Sperreng and Truman to fifth- through eighth-grade middle schools at a cost of $7 million to $10 million.

Advantages include being the least expensive of the six options and limited transitions at elementary schools.

Disadvantages include “little room for growth”; not meeting ideal elementary and middle school enrollment sizes; having the most impact on all other buildings; and being viewed as a “short-term fix.”

• Converting Sperreng and Truman to fifth- through eighth-grade middle schools and building a new elementary school at a cost of $17.5 million to $20 million.

Advantages include limited transitions; lower elementary-school enrollments; and more academic opportunities for fifth-grade pupils.

Disadvantages include still having a larger-than-ideal enrollment in middle schools with 850 to 900 pupils in each; the impacts of mixing fifth-graders with eighth-graders; and the perceived inequality between existing elementary schools and the new elementary school.

• Keeping Sperreng a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school and building a new sixth- through eighth-grade middle school at a cost of $28 million to $34 million.

Advantages include maintaining the same grade structure already in place; being closer to the ideal middle-school size; having a limited impact on other buildings ; being a “more long-term solution,” and transitions would stay the same.

Disadvantages include a high cost; the possibility of being stuck with a large building if enrollment drops in the future; and not using Truman as a middle school.

• Converting Sperreng to a fifth- through eighth-grade middle school and building a new fifth- through eighth-grade middle school at a cost of $34 million to $39 million.

Advantages include a new school; being able to expand educational programs; growth in the English Language Learners programs; and maintaining the same transitions.

Disadvantages include the cost — the greatest of the six options; perceived inequality between Sperreng and the new middle school; higher than ideal enrollment; impacting all elementary and middle schools in the district; and still not addressing overcrowding at Truman.

During the presentation, task-force member John Rahoy said he preferred the second option — having Truman and Sperreng as sixth- through eighth-grade middle schools and building a new elementary school — but would support whichever option the board selects.

Of the second option, he said, “… Even though I am a parent and I’m on this committee and I do support all of them, this is the one I support the most. We have 400 children that live in the Fenton area and a new elementary school down there would be an option for us …”

He later added, “… The issue before us is the greatest good for the students over the course of time, whether we’re looking at long-term solutions or short-term solutions. With an elementary school, that’s a long-term solution.

“With working with the existing facilities, that may not meet that standard. They’re both very good options. I’m definitely an advocate of the six through eight, but I think my preference would be the new elementary school, but that’s just me as a parent. As a member of this committee, I submit to this body that whatever option you choose, I support fully and I know you will make the right decision …”

Board of Education President Ken Fey later asked about the impact of the second option preferred by Rahoy.

“… Is it as simple as splitting up Truman and shipping 400 to 500 children from there down to a new elementary or will there be a reshuffle of all the schools?” Fey asked.

Rahoy said, “You’re going to have a redistricting no matter what you do. I mean there is no simple solution for redistricting and moving students. I can’t tell you how many of those 400 are at Truman as opposed to another elementary school. I don’t know that number … But what I’ve gathered and I think all of us would agree, you’re going to move — I mean there is going to be some movement no matter what option you choose, no matter what you do.

“You’re not going to satisfy all of the population of the students and the parents. It’s just — it’s not possible. So from that standpoint, it’s a difficult issue for the board, but in one sense it’s pretty simple because no matter what you do, it’s going to affect students in terms of moving and that’s just no way around it.”

Fey later thanked task-force members for their efforts.

“… These are all very good educational options and the board really, really needs to consider every option … It will be our task to now take these and to blend this into the financial picture and into the community picture and into all the other projects that are going on in the district …”