School overcrowding is not just an issue for Palm Beach County or Boca Raton. Cities all over the country are struggling to maintain a quality educational environment for their children.
Increasing class sizes and overcrowded schools can be traced directly to poorly managed growth. If school expansion and construction of new schools does not keep pace with increasing student enrollment, student performance may decline along with the quality of the educational experience for students, their families and teachers.
School overcrowding can have numerous consequences which are less than desirable:
- Students may be forced to eat lunch early or late in the day
- Traffic congestion and pedestrian safety becomes more of a problem at pick-up and drop-off times.
- Only a portion of parents can fit into the cafeteria or auditorium to attend events.
- Parents of high school seniors may be forced to watch their kid graduate on closed-circuit TV.
- Zoning changes resulting in a redistribution of the student body to alternate schools.
Development is not the only reason why schools become overcrowded, but it is the most controllable. In particular, residential development such as new homes, townhouses and apartments bring with them new students.
According to the 2015 American Housing Survey homes built between 2010 and 2015 had 26% more occupants under the age of 18 when compared with all homes. This indicates that the number of students coming from newer homes could be as much as 26% higher than the average.
When enrollment exceeds the design capacity of a school, student academic performance has been shown to decline along with the other facets of the ‘student’ experience.
A ratio of more than 20 students per teacher is generally considered undesirable. Severely crowded schools [>130% of capacity] have a negative impact on reading achievement, and research has also linked overcrowded schools to increased bullying.
The principal finding on a study of class size was that the smaller class size produced substantial improvement in early learning and cognitive studies, and the effect of small class size on the achievement of minority children was initially double that observed for majority children.
According to a Brookings Institution report, 24 states require or actively promote a reduction in class size. However, changing the national class size average by just one student costs $12 billion per year in just teacher salaries.
Some relief will be coming as a result of the recent one penny sales tax increase. Palm Beach County Schools will get half of the $2.7 billion the tax increase is expected to generate over the course of 10 years
Financial relief can also be coming through school impact fees. These impact fees are only required for residential development and the fees vary by housing type based on pupil generation – the more students coming from a housing type, the higher the fee.
Impact fees are based on the per student cost to construct school buildings and other infrastructure. Ongoing expenses like teacher salaries are not factored into the fee.
We have learned from our Palm Beach County School Board that it takes 2 ½ years and millions of dollars to construct a new high school, one which will support only 1200 students.
Plans are in the works for elementary school improvements, but currently there are no plans for any such construction of a new high school in Boca Raton.
Poor planning is preferable to no planning in this case. We can do our part by electing council members who will be diligent as far as overseeing our ‘Schools on Steroids’.
March elections are coming and parents should take note.