Trailers are coming to Forest View Elementary School and while no one is thrilled about it, parents and administrators alike acknowledge they’re needed.
School officials say the trailers – six, connected moduler units with bathrooms and offices – will ease crowding and add classroom space that will be lost when the state’s K-3 class-size mandate takes effect next school year.
Two parents and Principal Neil Clay all spoke to the school board Thursday in favor of the complex, which will be installed beside the 3007 Mount Sinai Road school’s rear wing at a cost of as much as $800,000.
“I never thought I’d be a parent going ‘Please give us more modular units,’” Elizabeth Snyder, the parent of two children at Forest View, told the board.
“Who wants to say that? But really there is no other choice,” she continued. “I just want to stress that they really do need the space, and it’s also a safety concern with things being out in the hallway and too many people being in the library.”
The school board unanimously approved moving forward. It projects the district will need at least 63 additional classrooms – the equivalent of two elementary schools – overall and 90 teachers to meet the new class-size mandate.
The mandate limits average class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to roughly 17 students. It was 21 last year.
District leaders have yet to put a price tag on the 63-classroom increase, but the 90 additional needed teachers will cost about $6 million.
Forest View is currently about 100 students over capacity, and finding extra classroom space will become even tougher when the K-3 class-size mandate kicks in.
To create additional classroom space this year, the music room was converted to traditional classroom space and the music teacher now pushes a cart from class-to-class.
Forest View also created classroom space in its media center and holds some remedial classes in hallways.
“I just want to stress that they’re teaching students and the hallways and how distracting that can be,” said Dina Niblock, president of the Forest View PTA.
The school also divided one large science classroom into two classrooms, and converted the teachers’ lounge into classroom space. Half of the space is used for science and the other half for art.
“This past summer, we did everything we could to make it work,” Clay said. “Right now, with having to add even one more classroom, I really don’t know where we would put them. There are no choices left but to take a computer lab away, take the art room away, take the science lab away and to not have places for our specials.”
Clay noted that Forest View has more English as a Second Language (ESL) students than any other elementary school in the district, which requires classroom space he doesn’t want to lose.
Aaron Beaulieu, the school district’s chief operating officer, said even with the school board’s approval this month, it’s going to be “tough” installing the modular complex in time for the start of school in August.
“Buying the unit and bringing it on site is just the initial work that goes along with something like this,” Beaulieu said. “It literally has the magnitude of a full construction project, with stormwater concerns, electrical concerns and right on down the line.”
DPS could save $100,000 on the cost of the project if it isn’t required to build a stormwater pond to treat and slow rainwater runoff from the site. A site plan review will determine whether the stormwater pond will be required.
School board member Natalie Beyer said the idea of jumping through so many hoops to meet an unfunded state mandate is unsettling.
“I hate that we have to do this because of this K-3 class size thing more than anything else,” Beyer said. “But, I know we needed to do this yesterday for these students,” Beyer said.
Thursday’s meeting was dominated by talk about the impact of the state’s K-3 class-size mandate on Durham children and its public school system.
Donna Hudson, DPS director of student assignment, said the class-size mandate will reduce the number of magnet school slots available to elementary school students. She said it also has the potential to cause crowding in traditional schools because more students will be forced to attend their base schools.
“The impact is twofold,” Hudson said. “One is the reduction of K-3 magnet seats but also when we have less seats in magnets it will also push students to their base schools.”
Beyer said the state’s General Assembly has to take responsibility for the problems created by the class-size mandate. The General Assembly already delayed the mandate one year to the start of the 2018-19 school year.
“I don’t want us to have to spend much more staff time on something the General Assembly broke,” said Beyer, noting that charter schools don’t have to comply with the mandate.
Forest View will need nine extra classrooms to handle its enrollment next year, but it isn’t the only elementary school with classroom space problems.
According to a district report, Creekside Elementary School will need 15 additional classrooms and Watts and Glenn elementary schools will need seven. Meanwhile, Hope Valley Elementary School will need six and Club and Easley elementary schools five each.
The classroom needs are what schools need before mobile units are used at schools. Some schools might, for example, require fewer classrooms if existing mobile units are in good working condition.