Overcrowding in local public schools

Oct 7, 2010, 3:00 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

What was going on five years ago in King County? The birthrate went up and now those babies are a crop of kindergarteners causing overcrowding in area schools.

Overall the number of students in public schools in Washington hasn’t increased significantly. The preliminary head count of students from the end of September shows our state has 1,024,070 students in public schools. That’s only an additional 3,000 students over the previous school year, but most of the growth is concentrated in King County.

After eight years of declines, Seattle enrollment is up. Seattle Schools reported its preliminary enrollment figures to the school board last night. For the 2010-2011 school year, Seattle has 47,043 students. That’s 1,099 more students than the previous school year and about 680 more than projected.

Garfield remains Seattle most crowded high school with 1,790 students. That’s above the district’s projected Garfield enrollment of 1,656. Seattle’s smallest high school is Rainier Beach wich has 424 students, that’s below their enrollment projection of 560 kids.

Public schools on the eastside of Lake Washington are experiencing the same kind of growth as Seattle.

“There was an increase in births in King County about five years ago, plus we have some changes in neighborhoods where folks are retiring and moving out and families with young kids are moving in,” says Kathryn Reith, spokesperson for the Lake Washington School District.

The eastside district, which includes Redmond and Kirkland, gained about 500 students this fall. While that doesn’t sound like many for a district with more than 24,000 kids, it is enough to fill up an entire elementary school.

“We go through a juggling act as a school district,” Reith says. “We don’t want to have a lot of extra classrooms built and sitting empty, but on the other hand we don’t want to be in a situation as we are now looking down the road and seeing we’re getting about 500 students a year more and there are no spaces for those kids.”

Lake Washington schools are getting creative as they figure out where to put kids. Computer labs have been made into classrooms and notebook computers on carts function as the lab.

At a meeting last night, the district and parents again discussed the possibility of double shifts at some high schools. One group of students might start as early as 6:30 a.m. with the second group coming in after noon. No one seems to like that idea, Reith says.

Starting with the 2012 school year, Lake Washington will become one of the last districts in the area to switch from an elementary/junior high/high school plan to a system where elementary schools have kids through 5th grade, middle schools are for 6th through 8th graders and high schools take the 9-12 grades. That change is being made for academic reasons and won’t ease overcrowding; it will simply shift the problem.

“Instead of looking in the fall of 2012 and trying to figure out where to put about 1,500 elementary school students, we’re instead now looking at where do we put about 800 high school students? That just about cuts our problem in half, but it’s still a big problem,” Reith says.

The Lake Washington School District is considering a levy measure on the February ballot to fund portable classrooms and other options to deal with crowded schools.

Schools have reported their preliminary student enrollment figures to the state. The final enrollment report is due out by the middle of the month. Here are a few of the area school districts’ head counts taken from late September for the 2010-2011 school year:

BHS 003

  • Bellevue 17,750 – increase of 606 students from the previous year
  • Everett 18,605 – decrease of 157
  • Federal Way 21,337 – 189 fewer
  • Issaquah 16,840 – increase of 321
  • Kent 26,352 – decrease of 188
  • Lake Washington 24,502 up 552
  • Seattle 47,043 – 684 more than projected
  • Tacoma 27,917 – a drop of 386 students

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Overcrowding in local public schools