Classroom shortage threatens economic vitality

By Marci Larsen, Superintendent | Jun 05, 2013

As a school district superintendent, I get invited to many meetings about economic development, and it seems that every one of these meetings discusses the importance of K-12 education and the fact that strong schools are critical to creating a strong community.

When Gov. Jay Inslee talks about his vision for creating jobs, for example, he says his first priority is to offer a world-class education for our children. In his budget priorities, he says that education is “the foundation of any meaningful plan to rebuild our economy.”

The Economic Alliance, the Washington Roundtable, and many other organizations concerned about the future of our economy, both at the state and local level, also continually mention public education as a critical component in creating more jobs and strengthening the community.

Mukilteo is widely known for having an excellent school system. I often hear from people who have chosen to live in our community primarily because of the excellent reputation of our schools. It’s always gratifying to hear these stories and confirms that our focus on high quality instruction is paying dividends.

But, the most basic requirement for a successful school system is to provide the space in which to teach students.

In order to build new school buildings, at least 60 percent of the voters in a school district must first approve a bond measure.

The last time the voters in our school district approved a construction bond was in 2000, at a time when our total enrollment was about 13,200 students.

Today, 13 years later, our enrollment has grown to about 14,500 students, which means about 1,300 students have arrived in our classrooms since the last bond measure was passed.

To put that in context, our typical elementary school building is designed to serve about 600 students.

In just the last five years, the enrollment in our elementary schools has increased by 500 students.

Bond measures presented to voters in 2006 and again in 2008 came just short of the supermajority required for passage, so to accommodate the increasing enrollment, we have added 17 portables to our elementary school campuses, giving us a total of 63.

But, adding portables is not a long-term solution. While they provide students with a classroom, they also take away playground space and put added pressure on the school’s core facilities, such as the library and lunchroom.

With this growth, we have very large elementary schools in Mukilteo. While seven of our 11 elementary schools have more than 600 students, the Everett School District has only three that large, Edmonds has two and Marysville has none.

Horizon, our largest elementary, has 800 students, which is about the size of our typical middle school.

A public meeting to discuss various options for addressing the need for more classroom space was heavily attended by your friends and neighbors.

Our school board is working on the issue and hopes to have a plan announced next fall. You are sure to hear more about this in the months ahead.

In the meantime, the problem of overcrowded elementary schools is something that should worry more than just the parents of young children.

If excellent schools are critical to the creation of jobs and our economic future, then providing adequate classroom space for our children is an issue that should concern all of us.

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