Report: Fayetteville schools to continue steady growth

Posted: November 5, 2017 at 1 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A demographic report predicts five of the nine elementary schools in the School District will be over capacity within five years as the district continues to steadily grow.

Templeton Demographics researched and created the report, which projects student enrollment for the next five and 10 years. The firm presented the report to the school board Tuesday.

Report summary

The Templeton Demographics firm’s Fayetteville Public Schools Demographic Summary examined economic conditions with information from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Arkansas Economic Development Institute, Fayetteville and other sources. To make its forecast, it also looked at Arkansas public schools total enrollment, enrollment growth, area housing market, residential activity, student density, intra-district transfers and historical enrollment.

• The Fayetteville area's unemployment rate is below 3 percent.

• Fayetteville Public Schools is the fourth fastest growing district in Arkansas in the last five years, based on growth number, not percentage.

• About 10 percent of elementary students who reside within the district transfer to a different elementary school than the zone they reside within.

• Fayetteville Public Schools may add 911 students in the next five years, for a fall 2022 enrollment of 10,950.

• Fayetteville Public Schools is projected to enroll 11,906 students for the 2027-28 school year.

Source: Staff report

Public school growth

Fayetteville Public Schools is the fourth fastest growing district when considering the increased number of students.

Rank District 2011-12 2016-17 Five-Year Difference Five-Year Growth

1 Bentonville 14,123 16,609 2,486 17.6 percent

2 Springdale 19,376 21,527 2,151 11.1 percent

3 Rogers 14,145 15,399 1,254 8.9 percent

4 Fayetteville 9,017 9,864 847 9.4 percent

5 Bryant 8,291 9,134 843 10.2 percent

6 Brookland 1,732 2,324 592 34.2 percent

7 Jonesboro 5,438 5,964 526 9.7 percent

8 Benton 4,618 5,108 490 10.6 percent

9 Conway 9,432 9,920 488 5.2 percent

10 Fort Smith 13,896 14,341 445 3.2 percent

Source: Templeton Demographics

Bob Templeton, firm president, said the key finding is Fayetteville Public Schools will experience steady enrollment growth because of a strong housing market and employment opportunities.

Superintendent Matthew Wendt said the report enables the district to make solid plans based on facts, rather than myth or speculation.

Justin Eichmann, president of the school board, said, "Overall, the report was very good news. There's nothing drastic that we need to do. We can have a very methodical approach to this. I don't think I could plan it out any better: you want growth and you want time to manage it."

The report projects the district will grow by 911 students over the next five years, for a fall 2022 enrollment of 10,950. Enrollment is projected to be 11,906 students by fall 2027.

The projection is comparable to the average annual increase of 150 students the district has seen in the past five years, according to Arkansas Department of Education data.

Growth areas

The junior high schools and fairly new high school have enough capacity to sustain the next 10 years of growth, but five elementary schools are closing in on the maximum capacity.

Wendt said he frequently is asked when Fayetteville will have two high schools.

"Philosophies can change over time, but the data indicates that we as a community don't need to open a second high school," he said.

McNair Middle School and Owl Creek School may go over capacity in 2022-23, according to the report.

Holcomb and Vandergriff elementary will exceed their capacities -- of 717 and 672 respectively -- by the 2019-20 school year. Holcomb is on the northwest side of the city while Vandergriff stretches across the northeast side.

Washington, Owl Creek and Happy Hollow will follow one-by-one in consecutive years with all over capacity by 2022-23, according to the report.

"It will be important to develop long-range plans, but for a few of our schools, the district needs to take more immediate action," Wendt said.

Options are available to relieve some pressure at schools near desired enrollment, Wendt said, including voluntary transfers and examining facility utilization.

"We know there are options, but we are going to invite our staff and community parent input and create some proposals in coming months," he said. "We want to be deliberate in our approach. I feel like the best ideas are going to come from the school community. We are going to invite people to the table to create some short-term fixes and then we need at the same time to create a long-term plan."

Holcomb principal Tracy Mulvenon said she is excited to have the data though nothing in the report really surprised her. She also said the board should first consider how the buildings are being used.

"We need to be thoughtful of our space and not just run out and build something," she said. "And, I really believe our superintendent is working with us and he is about the process. He has done a lot within a year. I'm OK with giving him and the board some time, because with an issue like this, you really can't rush out and make a rash decision, because it affects so many people."

Exploring options

Wendt said he feels it's important to exhaust all other efforts before talking about adjusting boundary lines. Wendt also mentioned the possibility of grandfathering in current students while moving new students to a school not as close to capacity.

Kelsey Roemer is Holcomb Elementary PTA member and attended Tuesday's meeting. As a real estate agent, she said she understands there's been a lot of growth, not just at Holcomb, but also around the city and Northwest Arkansas.

"I'm somewhat on the edge of the Holcomb district, so I was very concerned about redistricting," she said. "It was my impression before that we were going to be redistricting very quickly and I think that's a lot of what Holcomb parents felt. I'm just glad they're not jumping into it really fast, and they are going to take time to look at the figures."

Eichmann said an elementary and perhaps another middle school appears to be needed in the long-term, but there is plenty of time for planning and input.

"We don't have the attendance zoning debate this year and maybe not in 2019," he said. "It will have to come up certainly if and when the time a new elementary school comes online. If it has to come before, it won't be a quick or sudden deal; it will be a process where quite a bit is known and has plenty of time for community involvement."

When looking out to 2023-24 and beyond, Wendt said it is highly likely the district need new construction. It could be a new school or adding classrooms at existing campuses -- or a combination of the two, he said.

Wendt said along with looking at the usage of the district's buildings, they need to consider staffing levels. For example, he said, all elementary schools have a principal and a principal's assistant, but some schools have 300 students and some have upwards of 700.

"We also need to look at the type of support staff we have in schools with larger enrollment. It's not about taking away staff from any schools but adding staff in those with more students," Wendt said.

Wendt will be presenting the report to district faculty and staff members throughout the next several months, according to a school district press release. Beginning in mid-January, community meetings will be scheduled for parents and patrons to learn more about projected enrollment, short-term and long-term plans, and ask questions.

NW News on 11/05/2017