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LPS board talks enrollment, coming high school crunch
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LPS board talks enrollment, coming high school crunch

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An enrollment surge at Lincoln Public Schools means high schools will be “stressed” in the coming years, despite anticipated relief from a proposed career academy, school board members learned Tuesday.

High school enrollment is projected to grow by more than 2,000 students in the next five years — to a total of 12,500, which would mean an average of more than 2,000 students at each of the six high schools, according to district estimates.

“With 2,000 kids in every high school, they would all be stressed,” LPS facilities and maintenance director Scott Wieskamp told Lincoln Board of Education members at a work session.

That would be eased somewhat by a proposed career academy — a joint project between LPS and Southeast Community College that is dependent on LPS getting the $12.5 million it needs to pay for half the building. That will most likely come from a bond issue.

LPS officials estimated that 775 students from the district’s six high schools would attend the half-day programs at the proposed academy — at least to begin with — reducing average enrollment at the high schools to closer to 1,900 students.

That would still be tough, Wieskamp said, but doable.

“We think we can accommodate kids in classes but it stresses the core facilities,” he said. “When we get to 1,900 we’d be stressed.”

Southeast and North Star high schools are already there. Southeast has 2,009 students and North Star has 1,967 students this year.

Administrators can find more classroom space — using commons areas, for instance. The bigger problem is the stress it places on hallways, cafeterias, lockers and parking, said Wieskamp, who said he’s heard reports that Southeast students are sitting on the floor during some lunch periods.

That was a big problem for the school before 2006, when the last bond issue paid for major renovation and additions to the four oldest high schools. Before that, Northeast had eight portables; Southeast had six or seven.

“That’s a concern to me,” said board member Barb Baier. “We’re already at 2,000 at at least two of these high schools ... So I think we have to talk about it.”

But Associate Superintendent Liz Standish said there are still ways to make room for more students in the high schools.

A committee report on LPS facility needs recommended funding the career academy, saying it could postpone the need for a new high school by 10 to 12 years.

Several board members asked LPS officials to find a better way to estimate building capacity, questioning how the capacity of schools designed the same way can have such different capacities.

Maxey Elementary, for instance, lists its capacity at 640 students, while Cavett Elementary — which has the exact same design — lists its capacity at 748.

LPS officials said capacity is based on the student population — for instance special education students and English Language Learners require more space for fewer students.

Principals calculate their school's capacity based on how they use the space, then LPS officials review those numbers and increase capacity if some rooms could be reassigned as regular classroom space, Wieskamp said.

Board members asked if there was a more objective way to look at capacity, so they can better see where the enrollment “hot spots” are located.

“Ultimately we’re getting ready to make some pretty big decisions,” said board member Don Mayhew.

Reach Margaret Reist at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com

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Local government reporter

Margaret Reist is a recovering education reporter now writing about local and county government and the people who live in the city where she was born and raised.

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