Fayetteville Superintendent John Mulford floats idea of third junior high to help with crowding

Concept could help district with crowding and in other areas, Mulford says

FILE PHOTO The Fayetteville Public Schools McClinton Administration Building.
FILE PHOTO The Fayetteville Public Schools McClinton Administration Building.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Superintendent John Mulford recommended the School District pursue the idea of creating a third junior high school to alleviate crowding at McNair Middle School and help the district in other ways.

"It provides a long-term solution to the middle school and junior high needs within our district," Mulford told the School Board during a work session Tuesday. "We can create middle school-junior high pairings to where it's the same group of students moving up together so it lessens the burden of a transition."

The board made no decisions and took no action on the recommendation, which will be discussed and could be voted on at the Dec. 14 meeting.

The move would also lessen transportation and traffic woes, Mulford said. If elementary, middle and junior high schools are close geographically and going to the same places, the district gains efficiency from that proximity, he said.

Mulford emphasized it's just an idea at this point. But the goal of his recommendation is having three middle schools, three junior high schools and establishing peer-feeder patterns that don't split up students as they advance in school, Mulford said. The board would first have to approve, and the specifics of any plan would then be ironed out.

"That would be a conversation with the board over the next three or four months," Mulford said.

Currently, there are three middle schools in the district -- Colbert, Holt and McNair -- and two junior highs -- Ramay and Woodland. Possible concepts include converting Colbert, which opened this fall, into a junior high, then building another middle school -- or constructing a junior high.

Building a school could be paid for through second-lien bonds, which allow the district to use the current voter-approved millage rate, Mulford said.

"We've seen enough growth over the last few years that we can issue second-lien bonds that would be sufficient enough to construct either a middle school or a junior high," he said.

Mulford noted the recommendation wouldn't immediately solve McNair's crowding but would provide a light at the end of the tunnel. There'd be a three to three-and-a-half year timeline to build a new facility, and he anticipated it being completed and open for the 2027-28 school year. During that stretch, the district could shift enrollment and lighten the burden at McNair, decreasing enrollment there in the range of 1oo to 150 students, Mulford said.

"I would still like to get into the habit of revisiting school zones on a regular basis," board President Nika Waitsman said. "Just so that when we are faced with enrollment imbalances, it's not something we haven't talked about for 10 or 15 years."

Regularly evaluating zones is a way to ensure the district is doing the best it can to serve students in regard to not only proximity but demographic balance, she said.

The district is working with consulting firm MGT on the crowding issue. The project has focused on revisiting boundaries for the middle schools -- with McNair at the center of the initiative. McNair's enrollment is 764, and Mulford has said the challenge is solving the crowding problem there without creating hardships for families. McNair has a capacity of 692 students, MGT representative Lance Richards told the board during a Nov. 16 project update.

Of the 15 district public schools in the MGT study -- nine elementary schools, the three middle schools, Ramay and Woodland junior high schools and Fayetteville High School -- only McNair fell into the inadequate space category, Richards said.

Colbert and Holt were listed as having inefficient use of space, MGT said. Colbert's enrollment is 443, but the school has a campus capacity of 800, with Holt at 449 and 692, respectively, according to MGT.

Despite the McNair problem, Richards said MGT isn't "forecasting some kind of demographic crisis" for the district.

Aside from compiling demographic information for the district, MGT gathered community input from parents, students, faculty, staff and stakeholders. Traffic problems when dropping off and picking up students from school were among concerns voiced by parents during that process. Including an online survey and in-person feedback at two public information sessions last month, there were about 2,500 responses overall, Mulford said Tuesday.

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