Scott school officials look for ways to address enrollment increases

GEORGETOWN — As of early November, the Scott County Schools had a K-12 enrollment of 8,489 students. The 14th-largest school district in Kentucky adds about 200 students each year as families, attracted by relatively low taxes, move to the county.

Ideas on how to address the increasing enrollment will be discussed Monday at a work session of the Scott County school board.

Several ideas are on the table, and more might come out of the work session, but Superintendent Patricia Putty said no decision is likely to be made until after new board members elected last week are sworn into office in January.

The new board members — Jo Anna Fryman and Jennifer Holbert — have been invited to attend the work session, Putty said.

"I want us all to be able to sit down and to look at, first of all, the increased enrollment and answer the following questions: 'How great is the sense of urgency?'

"The second thing I want us to look at is, what alternatives do we have as a school district and as a board to pursue the possibility of a second high school? ... I would hope to get some real sharing of ideas. ... Not having any hidden agendas, but just having honest conversation."

One plan that has generated a lot of discussion is Putty's proposal, put forth at an Oct. 2 work session, to begin the phased construction of a new high school behind Elkhorn Crossing School, the vocational-technical school off U.S. 460.

Architects and engineers have projected that a new 1,500-student high school would cost about $64 million.

Trouble is, the school district doesn't have the money. Its bonding capacity is $14.85 million, and the school board voted Oct. 16 to commit $8 million of that to finish the second phase of the new Lemons Mill Elementary School, scheduled to open in August.

That would leave $6.85 million to build the first phase of a new high school, with 17 classrooms and five science labs on the Elkhorn Crossing campus. It would have space for 500 students. As additional bonding became available, more phases would be built, Putty has said.

School board member Haley Conway, the only incumbent re-elected last week, said in an interview before the election that residents and teachers whom he has spoken with want a full-fledged second high school, but Putty's solution isn't it.

"It's a Band-Aid," Conway said.

Scott County's enrollment in ninth through 12th grades is 2,374 — and the number is projected to grow to 2,858 by the 2021-22 school year. Students now are spread throughout three buildings: 10th through 12th grades at Scott County High School, ninth-graders in a separate building, and the Elkhorn Crossing School career-tech building. The highest population at Scott County High School on a given day is about 1,350, Putty said.

The problem that Conway and others have with Putty's proposal is that — initially, at least — the students going to the second high school would be on the same transportation schedule as those at Elkhorn Crossing.

The students now enrolled at Elkhorn Crossing spend half-day sessions there. Elkhorn Crossing has no cafeteria. So 444 students attend a morning session at Elkhorn Crossing, then are bused to Scott County High for lunch and afternoon classes. In the afternoon, 372 students are bused from Scott County High to Elkhorn Crossing.

Putty's proposal puts 1,000 more students on buses — 500 in the morning, 500 in the afternoon — for a total of 1,816 students being shuttled across Georgetown.

"Basically we're just moving kids from one site and moving them to another," Conway said. "We're going to remove kids from the existing Scott County High School campus, and we're going to put them all on buses twice a day."

Putty acknowledged that it is not a perfect plan.

"But given the increasing enrollment, we cannot sit back and wait until we have $64 million before we begin construction," she said in a written statement about her proposal. "This plan would provide the initial steps toward our ultimate goal of a second high school by providing classrooms for 500 students."

Putty said Friday that she was "not married" to her proposal. But she said it would send a message to the community "that we hear you, we understand there is a need for a second high school, that financially we cannot do it now, but we are committed to phasing construction."

And she said it's possible that the bonding capacity during the next year might increase so a $4.5 million kitchen and cafeteria could be added to the new building, thus eliminating the transportation of those students.

Aside from that, Putty said, other ideas have been presented.

One is to turn Georgetown Middle School into a small high school, then build a new Georgetown Middle School. Another proposal is to convert Scott County Middle School — which is on the same campus as Scott County High — into a ninth-grade school. That would open more space for Scott County High, but a new Scott County Middle School would have to be built.

The one caveat to all this is that a task force studying these issues did not recommend increased taxes until all other avenues were exhausted, Putty said.

The bottom line, she said, is that "as a district we have to be looking to the future as to what our needs are for a second high school. ... I want people to start having that dialogue and looking at different options. Ultimately, it's not my decision; it's the board's."