East Board member: Overcrowded schools will look like ‘a project’ soon
By Stephanie Lulay firstname.lastname@example.org January 22, 2014 6:52PM
Incoming sixth grader Bryan Lazcano, 11, tries out his locker for the first time at East Aurora's Cowherd Middle School on Thursday. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 24, 2014 1:20PM
AURORA —An East Aurora School Board member said the school district is avoiding having serious conversations about overcrowding at a school board meeting this week.
During a curriculum update at a meeting Tuesday night, East Aurora School Board member Ray Hull asked why the district continues to have conversations about new concepts while “fluffing over” needed density reduction in schools.
“How do we have conversations about helping our students grow if we continue to literally take the approach that HUD has taken to housing — public housing — when we continue to stack people on top of each other?” Hull asked, comparing the district to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development public housing complexes. “And we expect that we’re going to achieve some different results?”
Last year at East Aurora, 39 percent of students failed to graduate in four years, compared to 17 percent statewide.
Hull said that East grade schools are “busting at the seams.”
“More and more students come to the high school. Before long the high school’s going to look like a project building,” Hull said. “I guess we’re just going to keep adding floors.”
Last year, East Aurora had larger class sizes than the state average in every grade level except kindergarten, according to May 2013 data. Kindergarten students at East Aurora had the same average class size as the state, at 21.2 students.
East Aurora elementary class sizes vary greatly from building to building. Of the district’s 12 elementary schools, half have at least one grade level with an average class size of 30 or more students.
The biggest class size differences were in high school, which is grouped by the state from ninth to 12th grade. East Aurora High School classes had, on average, 7.9 more students than the state average of 19.3.
East Board President Annette Johnson said the addition of the East Aurora magnet school reduced some density. Discussions about density reduction at the middle school level are ongoing, Johnson said.
East Aurora paid $2.8 million to renovate East High this summer to accommodate a growing high school student body. The district converted existing classrooms and fitness spaces to add 12 new classrooms and more office space for school counselors. To create a new multi-purpose room, the district made a controversial decision to fill in its swimming pool.
In November, East Aurora agreed to purchase a $425,000 building that will become a 22-classroom kindergarten center on East Indian Trail. According to Johnson, the total cost to buy, renovate and furnish the building is expected not to exceed $9 million.
The district said that by housing the kindergarten program centrally it will free up space in the elementary schools for additional pre-kindergarten students.
“Remember, the district is a landlocked district. And we have to concern ourselves with the overall tax structure in our district as well,” she said. “It’s not like we’re just sitting here doing nothing.”
East Aurora Superintendent Jerome Roberts said East Aurora officials have applied for state construction funds, but that program has been suspended.
“The only other way (to build or buy) is going to be by referendum. This isn’t the environment for that,” Roberts said, before reminding Hull that the district’s curriculum staff is not responsible for tackling density reduction in the district. “That’s more of a conversation with the board and the city.”
But Hull contended that until the district makes some sort of plan to address overcrowding, “it’s very difficult to see any real changes that are going to take place.”
“The bottom line is children or the dollars. For me, this is what this is about,” Hull said.
Staff writer Kalyn Belsha
contributed to this report.