Enrollment shows need for new Fayette County public schools, officials say

jkegley@herald-leader.comNovember 15, 2012 

The hallways were packed as students made their way to their next class during class change at Henry Clay High School on Fontaine Rd. in Lexington, Ky., Friday, September 23, 2011.Total enrollment in the Fayette schools has reached about 40,000 students in 2012. This is posing an inconvenience now, but promises to become a problem as growth continues. Henry clay is the most overcrowded high school in Fayette County. Charles Bertram | Staff

CHARLES BERTRAM

Three out of Lexington's five public high schools are over capacity by more than 400 students, according to numbers compiled by the Kentucky Department of Education.

The numbers were included in documents provided to 20 or so attendees and 12 committee members at a meeting of the Fayette County Schools Local Planning Committee on Thursday.

The meeting was a forum where residents could speak about the district's proposed new facilities plan, which calls for the construction of seven schools in the next four years, including a new 1,800-student high school.

Of the county's five academic high schools, only Tates Creek High School was under capacity, according to the state's numbers. There are 1,805 students enrolled there, 228 fewer than capacity.

The four other public high schools are over capacity according to state Department of Education calculations.

Bryan Station High School is 156 students over capacity; Henry Clay is 445 over capacity; Lafayette is 491 over capacity; and Paul Laurence Dunbar is 681 over capacity, according to the numbers.

However, officials noted Thursday that the state's calculations are not quite as dire as they appear. The formula used by the Department of Education to calculate a school's capacity takes into account classrooms only, said Mike Oder, the planning comittee's facilitator from the Kentucky School Board Association.

The calculations do not account for other rooms such as gymnasiums or labs, where part of the student body might be at any given time. Also, teachers can share rooms, which eliminates some need for expansion, Fayette County Schools superintendent Tom Shelton said.

Still, "no one expects the numbers (of students) to go anywhere but up," Oder said.

The facilities plan unveiled Wednesday takes into account expected growth as well as current enrollment. Over the last decade or so, the number of students enrolled in Lexington's kindergarten through 12th grade schools has risen sharply.

"We've been talking about that for quite a while. We've grown over 5,000 students in the last seven years," Shelton said after Thursday's forum. "This past year we grew over 1,000 alone." Total enrollment was 40,023 for 2011-2012, according to the school district's Web site.

Most middle and elementary schools are listed near or under capacity. The high schools are more full because students are funneled from dozens of primary and middle schools into fewer secondary-school facilities.

There are about 30 public elementary schools and 12 middle schools in Fayette County, while there are five high schools and four alternative and technical schools for high schoolers.

The facilities plan, created every four years, calls for the construction of the new high school as well as a specialty high school, a middle school, two elementary schools and an early childhood center. It also outlines repairs and expansions to many of Lexington's existing public school facilities.

Fayette County school officials have estimated the total cost of the plan at about $200 million.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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