Packing them in at Rogers High

by Jim Boyle
The Elk River Area School Board shied away from a bond referendum last fall due to the economy, but the latest run of student enrollment projections and assessment of building capacities is forcing the issue to be discussed yet again.

Members of the School Board met in a work session on April 4 at Rogers High School. Before the meeting school board members took a tour of the senior high school, which is one of the most crowded facilities in the school district.

The building is expected to be 7 percent over capacity during the next school year, based on the latest version of building capacity. That’s not what has Rogers High School Principal Roman Pierskalla worried, though.

He’s wondering about two years from now when the school tops 1,400 students.

The school currently has 1,275 students and will easily top 1,400 in two years given the number of students bubbling up from Rogers Middle School.

“This is without growth,” Pierskalla said. “Once the economy turns around, Rogers will be the next Maple Grove. Everybody knows that.”

Pierskalla became the Rogers High School principal six years ago. He inherited a two-year-old facility that was built with 1,000 kids in mind and core facilities so the building could be expanded to 1,500. Had the economy not tanked and new home construction not stalled, that expansion may have already been completed by now.

An assessment of space across the school district was completed after his arrival, and the school’s building capacity was adjusted upward to 1,200 students, Pierskalla said.

Another assessment has been done, and puts building capacity at 1,250. Figuring out building capacities is complex and is affected by many variables. There are some new ones on the horizon, too, with the state talking about all-day, everyday kindergarten. That alone would increase the district’s need for 16 more elementary classrooms on top of the ones used for Kindergarten Extra programming. Secondary schools are impacted by the accounting (or lack of accounting) for portable classrooms, FOCUS programs for special education students and what specialty rooms can come offline to make room for regular classrooms in a pinch.

Pierskalla says no matter how you look at it, however, his school is over capacity with no plan in place for relief.

There are no easy answers in sight. Across the street at Rogers Middle School the hallways are not any less crowded. That building is projected to be 10 percent over capacity next year. This year it has its largest sixth-grade enrollment ever.

Hassan Elementary School, meanwhile, is projected to be 9 percent over capacity, and Otsego Elementary School is expected to be 4 percent over capacity.

The only elementary school in Elk River over capacity is Twin Lakes Elementary School, located in an area described as growing and ripe for more growth.

The School Board debated April 4 its approach to gathering community input as it prepares to launch an effort to update its strategic plan.

It’s also weighing how a policy on boundary lines, designed to be proactive in nature and to build community understanding, plays into all of the discussion.

School board members agreed they need to have a handle on a few things before they go out the public, and they agreed to consider holding a marathon session on a Saturday.

They intend to look at what short-term and long-term solutions are on the table and expect to devise a plan to get the community to weigh in as well.

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