Schools are at capacity! Schools are at capacity! Schools are at capacity! We hear the cry from the Park City School District.
In fact, one of the first slides you’ll often see in school board presentations on the school bond is a slide showing schools at capacity. Yet, It’s an important enough topic that it deserves a little more scrutiny. When we do that, we find that our schools may not be as full as we think.
Let’s provide an example. It is often cited by the School District that Parley’s Park is at 99% capacity. What does this mean? As of October 1st, Parley’s Park had 551 students, according to school district documents. Is that too many? That’s a really good question. To answer that we first need to look at a concept called Open Enrollment. Open Enrollment means that students from other districts can attend Park City schools as long as the schools are not “closed” by the school board. Schools can only be closed if they are at the enrollment threshold of 90% of “capacity.” Capacity is determined by a formula provided by the state.
So, back to the question of whether 551 students at Parley’s Park is too many.
If you compare current enrollment to a 2014 PCSD Open enrollment document that lists the “enrollment threshold” at 549 students for Parley’s Park, you may conclude that the school is packed to the brim. However, according to Open Enrollment documents, the maximum capacity for students at Parley’s Park is 589 students and we have 551 students. So that is about a full classroom of space empty at Parley’s Park. Yet, you could say it is “full” by certain definitions, if you mean we are at the 90% threshold.
But the better question is whether the “Open Enrollment” number is the actual capacity?
It seems Open Enrollment Numbers are a bit of a political beast. That’s because pressure has been put upon Park City schools to limit the number of students from out of district that can attend our schools and open enrollment numbers are used to make those calculations. I view limiting out of district students as a good thing because every out of district student costs tax payers money. Yet, we shouldn’t let that desire for minimizing out of district students cloud our judgement of how full our schools really are.
So, let’s then examine a document from the School District’s Master Planning process, last updated in April 2015. It says Parley’s Park’s total capacity is 708 and it’s functional capacity is 673. Again, Parley’s Park had 551 students as of the beginning of this Ocotber. That would be 122 less students than the functional capacity listed in Master Planning documents. In fact, every elementary school was UNDER functional capacity by over 100 students. McPolin was under by 176 students, Trailside was under by 106 students, and Jeremy Ranch elementary was under by 133 students. That would be between 4 and 6 classrooms, of 25-30 students, at each school being empty.
Note, these are the same capacity numbers that the School District’s Master Planning Committee used to make their recommendations.
The problem is that we’ve already learned that the school district overestimated growth this year. In fact, they were forecasting 2.6% growth but actually saw a 0.5% decrease. Even worse, elementary schools like Parley’s Park dropped over 8% this year… which will likely push down enrollment numbers as those children progress through our schools.
To be fair, it’s important to note that “functional capacity” is not the end-all-and-be-all number, either. Other factors come into play, such as support facilities, shared spaces, design of classrooms, etc. Yet it does provide us an indication of whether our schools are really packed to the brim. And looking at the numbers below, that’s hard to believe.
While I understand why we play the political numbers game when we are attempting to limit out of district students…why are we fooling ourselves when we try to make important decisions like figuring out what to do with our schools.