Spokane Public Schools eyes shuffling facility uses
District looks to expand programs, reduce some student-teacher ratiosDecember 19th, 2013
Spokane Public Schools plans to shuffle facility uses by next fall to expand some programs and address a state-required reduction of class sizes for certain elementary grades.
Assistant Superintendent Mark Anderson says the district also has started a study this month of its next phases of facility needs in planning for any construction projects it will hope to fund through a 2015 bond measure.
“For next year, we’re working on space issues in 24 of our 34 elementary schools, so that kindergarten and first grade is at the 20-to-1 (student-teacher) ratio,” Anderson says. The state is requiring that maximum ratio for kindergarten and first grades next fall in schools in which at least 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.
The district expects to buy some portable classrooms, but will make use of existing school space where possible, he says. By 2018, kindergarten to third-grade classes are supposed to be reduced in size to 17 kids per teacher regardless of poverty levels, Anderson says. Current classes have as many as 25 students per teacher.
“In our preliminary study, if we just added rooms without moving anyone, we’d need 24 additional classrooms next year for the K-1, but we can shift programs around somewhat,” he says. “That’s part of the whole puzzle.”
He adds, “We do want to think long term, too.”
The state Legislature has provided an additional $2 million in operational funding to the district for next fall so it can reduce class sizes in kindergarten and first grade, he says, but it didn’t fund additional facility space. The school board is requesting that the Legislature also include money so districts that are out of space can buy portables or add classrooms onto schools, he adds.
In a separate step to expand one of its learning programs, the district plans next year to move The Community School, a project-based high school, out of its building at 1300 W. Knox and to combine in that facility Montessori programs now based separately at Balboa and Jefferson elementary schools.
The 79,000-square-foot school on Knox Avenue, formerly called Havermale School, is expected to provide space next year for about 250 Montessori students in grades first to sixth, and eventually for grades kindergarten to eighth, Anderson says. The school has space for about 600 students, he says.
The district still is deciding where to relocate The Community School, which has about 150 students, Anderson says. He says the district hasn’t decided yet whether to move a few small programs also at the school on Knox Avenue, which include an audiology testing center and the Medicine Wheel Academy for Native American students.
“Parents have for a long time wanted consolidation for the Montessori program in one location,” Anderson says. “We’re analyzing our space at other facilities to see if they can house The Community School, or if we need to acquire a space for them as well.”
As part of the overall facility planning, he says the district is preparing to reopen Pratt Elementary, at 6903 E. Fourth, which the district closed in 2007. SPS has used the 35,000-square-foot school building most recently to store surplus furniture.
To store the furniture it had kept at Pratt, the district this month agreed to buy for $437,000 a 10,000-square-foot warehouse at 2908 N. Nevada from Spokane-based Avella LLC, a manufacturer of kitchen cabinets and countertops.
Anderson says the district hasn’t decide how it will use Pratt yet, but it’s considering options that include a charter school, a dual-language elementary school, a science-focused academy, or to provide temporary space if other facilities are being updated. He says the district estimates a cost of roughly $1.6 million to renovate Pratt for educational use again.
“We bought a warehouse in anticipation of reopening Pratt, whether that occurs next year or the following year,” Anderson says. “We know that within the next couple of years that space will be needed.”
Overall, Anderson says district employees expect to present facilities plans for the next school year to its board by the end of February in order to prepare for next fall.
He says district committee members reviewing facility needs also will consider projects for replacing old school facilities or renovating them, as part of the 2015 bond request to voters.
“It’s the bond we’ve been running every six years and keeping the property tax rate flat for renovating and replacing old schools,” he says, adding that 17 older schools haven’t been renovated or replaced. “Many of them are middle schools. We haven’t started on middle schools yet.”