Collinsville schools have a space problem, according to district officials, but overcrowded classrooms are only part of it.
Superintendent Robert Green gave a presentation Thursday outlining the problem with space in Collinsville’s elementary schools. Collinsville Unit 10 has several small neighborhood schools where most of the students live close to a school with as few as 100 students, unlike other districts that have consolidated their elementary students into larger schools.
“We believe in the neighborhood schools concept,” Green said.
However, the schools aren’t always close to the areas where the largest concentration of students live, as people move in and out of the district and new housing is constructed. For example, Green said the number of children living in Summit Elementary’s district could fill the school two or three times, due to apartment complexes with a large concentration of families.
Therefore some students must be bused out of their neighborhood school’s district to schools with more space, which means those students often must take two buses to get home due to the limited number of school buses. For example, Green said Fairmont City students often end up at Maryville Elementary, so they must take a bus from Maryville to Caseyville, and then home to Fairmont City.
“They’re losing instructional time, as much as 15 to 30 minutes a day,” Green said.
That means the busing students must leave earlier, and they have less time in the classroom because of it, Green said. Two years ago the problem affected 360 children. Last year they got it down to 180 students, he said, but next year they anticipate it’ll be back up to 220 kids.
Green said they have developed a plan, but stressed that it is only an idea at this point; no decisions have been made by the Unit 10 board. One option would be to do nothing and continue busing students around the district. Another would be to build one large elementary school, which Green estimated would cost $30 million and would run counter to the district’s tradition of smaller neighborhood schools.
Instead, Green said, they’ve developed a plan that they believe might solve the problem without raising the tax rate. The plan involves adding a wing onto Collinsville Middle School, which was constructed as part of the district-wide construction program approved with a bond referendum in 2002. The new wing would consolidate all the sixth graders in Unit 10 at the middle school. That would leave room for fourth graders to move to Dorris Intermediate School, thus freeing space at all the elementary schools.
“Would it completely solve the problem? We don’t think so, but it’ll make a big dent,” Green said. They will also have to change some of the boundaries, particularly around Summit Elementary, he said.
How to do it without raising the tax rate? Green said the district is due to retire debt in 2018, and the bulk of the 2002 construction program bonds in 2021. Currently Unit 10 pays $1.5 million per year on that debt. Once the debt is retired, Green said, they could absorb up to $15 million in constructions costs without raising the tax rate.
Green said their architect believes they can pull off the project for far less than the $15 million cap. However, for any project costing more than $10 million, there would be a voter referendum, Green said. That decision would have to be made by December, but he said right now they’re just looking to inform the public.
“We want to get the public involved and we want feedback,” Green said. “The board needs to hear from you. There may be a better way to solve it that we haven’t thought of. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if someone came up with a better idea.”
Parent Betsy Bonee said she was concerned that fourth grade is young for moving to a large, consolidated school — that the students would become “just a number.”
“That’s why we like our neighborhood schools,” she said.
Mayor John Miller said he thought the plan was “very well thought-out” and offered to help support the district with planning traffic patterns and working with the state. He said if the city’s planned enterprise zone is approved in that area of Collinsville, the middle school would be eligible for a sales tax exemption on construction materials.