Education

Some parents upset about need for more portable classrooms at Fayette County schools

Students walked into a portable classroom behind Rosa Parks Elementary in Lexington last week. The school is expected to get another portable unit in the fall.
Students walked into a portable classroom behind Rosa Parks Elementary in Lexington last week. The school is expected to get another portable unit in the fall. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Parent Maggie Draus is concerned about the news that Lexington’s Cassidy Elementary School is one of several in Fayette County likely to get portable classrooms in the fall because of overcrowding.

“All of these schools are going to be impacted negatively,” Draus said. “I don’t want my child in a portable.”

The school district expects to allocate $430,000 in the 2015-16 budget and $1.4 million in the 2016-17 budget for portables.

Cassidy, Veterans Park and Julius Marks elementary schools are expected to get two portable units each. Northern and Wellington elementary schools would get one each.

Rosa Parks Elementary School has one portable now and would get a second in the fall, said Myron Thompson, acting senior director of operations and support.

Other schools that currently have portables because of overcrowding are Athens-Chilesburg, Lansdowne, Sandersville and Yates elementary schools; Beaumont, Edythe J. Hayes and Morton middle schools; and Eastside Technical, STEAM Academy and Henry Clay High School, Thompson said.

The new portables will cost about $80,000 each as they are set up and about $500 to $800 a month to lease. A portable with two classrooms will seat 50 students, with 25 in each room, he said.

Draus thinks that everything from the lunchroom to teacher resources will be pressed when more students arrive at Cassidy.

The expected overcrowding is attributed to the school board’s decision to eliminate the district’s continuation plan in the fall.

Under the continuation plan, when an elementary school becomes overcrowded, new students are assigned to an identified alternate school.

The plan was unpopular with many parents whose children were unable to go to school with their neighbors. Several principals of overcrowded schools said they were willing to take the extra students.

But Draus said the redistricting plan district officials worked on last year, which redrew attendance zones, should have taken care of the overcrowding.

“I think they need to go back to the drawing board,” she said.

Melanie Gabbard, Cassidy’s PTA president, said the school’s population next fall is projected to be more than 800 students, which she views as an excess of about 150.

“We are circulating a Change.org petition and have formally requested placement on the agenda of the Jan. 25 board meeting,” Gabbard said in an email. “As a community of parents, I believe we have a voice in this debate.”

Sarah Cordle is another Cassidy parent who is worried about the portables.

“What everyone wants is some comprehensive plan to manage the overcapacity schools,” Cordle said.

She is asking that “our district provide an alternative to overburdening schools.”

“Once portables are put into our school, I don’t forsee them leaving,” she said.

Cordle is concerned that while Cassidy and other schools are overcrowded, some schools in Fayette County are under capacity.

Cordle, who is a guidance counselor at Cassidy, said that, in voicing her concerns, she was not speaking on behalf of the staff.

From a Cassidy staff perspective, she said. “We will do whatever we need to do” to meet the needs of all the students. “We will take care of those kids.”

Two new elementary schools are set to open in Fayette County in August. Officials say another elementary school and a middle school are in the district’s longer-range plans.

At a school board meeting Jan. 11, district officials discussed the possibility that Fayette County might need to build elementary schools that are larger than the current model, designed for 650 students.

Superintendent Manny Caulk said that decision would be determined by factors that included whether Fayette County continued to grow.

School board member Amanda Ferguson, meanwhile, said she had received complaints about the proposed use of portable classrooms.

“The concerns I've heard are from constituents, and they want to know why we still need portables at schools when we have just gone through redistricting,” Ferguson said. “I understand their complaints, but of course the new elementaries have not yet opened and the redistricting plan will not fully take effect until the fall of 2017. Understandably, many neighbors do not like looking at the portables.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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