Bond issue necessary to ease overcrowding at Sperreng, panel says

Lindbergh board will consider financial, educational impacts of 6 options to ease high enrollments

By BURKE WASSON

The Lindbergh Board of Education will be asked to consider placing a bond issue before voters to ease space concerns at Sperreng Middle School.

A Demographic Task Force comprised of 53 participants — parents, residents and staff members — will present six options to address overcrowding at Sperreng to the Board of Education at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, in the boardroom of the Administration Building, 4900 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

During two public forums last week, task-force members presented those six options along with projected costs from Director of Planning and Development Karl Guyer.

Those options, including estimated costs as well as ad-vantages and disadvantages listed 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 school enrollment sizes; allowing for growth in the new elementary school; and reducing a number of student 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 “fairly expensive” cost; 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 “very, very little room for growth;” staying above the “ideal” middle-school enrollment of 600 to 800 pupils; impacting all elementary and middle schools in the district; and being viewed as “more of 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 of 600 to 800 pupils; impacting only Sperreng Middle School; being a “more long-term solution,” and transitions would stay the same.

Disadvantages include a high cost; the possibility of “excessively large buildings” at the middle-school level if enrollment drops in the future; and enrollment concerns of elementary pupils at Truman would still exist.

• 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 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 with more than 800 pupils.

Officials said that each of these options would be available soon on the Lindbergh School District’s Web site at www.lindbergh.k12.mo.us. The Web site also will offer a “virtual forum” in which residents can express opinions and ask questions about the proposals.

The Board of Education voted unanimously in October to establish the task force to recommend options to address space concerns at Sperreng, which has an enrollment of 1,323 pupils while the ideal size for a middle school serving grades six through eight is 600 to 800 pupils.

Sperreng Principal Jennifer Tiller reported last week that of 23 area middle schools, Sperreng is one of six middle schools with more than 800 pupils and one of three middle schools with more than 1,000 pupils. Sixteen out of those 23 local middle schools have enrollments of 800 or less.

Guyer emphasized that the costs reported with the six options are purely facilities estimates and do not include other associated new costs like staffing and utilities.

“The amounts are for the cost of facilities only,” Guyer said. “Operational costs, including staffing, transportation adjustments, utilities and other operational expenses, have not been included and would have to be evaluated with any one of these options. These are also based on conceptual ideas that are just simply on paper. There are no drawings or plans that have already been advanced for any one of these options.”

District officials also reiterated that the 53 members of the task force were asked to develop recommendations with the strict charge of what is best for students. To reinforce that emphasis on students, task-force members were told not to estimate costs, which Superintendent Jim Sandfort said will be weighed by Board of Education members when they study the six options formulated by members of the task force.

“The committee was not restricted by cost because that was not the key issue at the time when they put their efforts into this venture,” Sandfort said. “It’s what was best for students. But the board will have to consider those options … The board will have to consider all options weighing not only on the educational, but also the financial impact of the various options on the long-term grade configurations of Lindbergh School District …

“That has to be played off against what will the community support. This is going to take a bond issue. This is going to take extra money. It’s going to take going out to the public and saying: ‘We need your support for the long-term interest of students and families in this school district.'”