UPDATE - March 10, 2020
At the March 10, 2020, Elizabethtown Area School District administration presented the findings from a month-long analysis of building capacity and utilization at the K-2 level. As part of the presentation, District administration presented the board with two options to consider:
- Move forward with planned renovations of Rheems Elementary School under the current PDE PlanCon guidelines, timelines and associated reimbursement rates.
- Hold off on Rheems renovations AND further investigate moving from small neighborhood schools to community-wide schools with the focus on the ability to maximize current supports/ staffing K-12 and reduce the school district’s overall long-term debt service regarding renovations.
The ultimate goal of the presentation was to help the board of school directors make the best decision on how to effectively deploy a finite set of resources to enable all students within the Elizabethtown Area School District, K -12, district-wide, to have experiences and opportunities for success as defined by our vision and mission. It is anticipated the school directors will provide District administration with the direction it desires to pursue at the March 24, 2020, regular meeting of the school board.
District administration and the board of education desires to preserve the programs, services, and people that make the Elizabethtown Area School District a premier public school system in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This includes safe and supportive learning environments; the people within our schools and communities that support our students in their growth, development, and learning; and having equitable opportunities for all students K-12.
The K-2 building analysis began after the Jan. 28 regular meeting of the school board when District administration asked the board for one month to explore whether or not consolidating to two elementary schools was feasible and to identify the strengths, opportunities, and weaknesses of such a plan would be. The impetus of the idea was when District administration began reviewing in late January placement options for Rheems students during a proposed renovation.
Open classrooms, coupled with 300 less students at the primary level, created a scenario where District administration felt it was our moral and ethical obligation to ask the board for the time to investigate consolidation and a possible move to a community-school model. This belief was based on the long-standing practice of balancing fiscal responsibility for all tax payers with providing the very best education possible for our students K-12.
As part of the month-long analysis, District administration reviewed the following:
- School Board Goals
- EASD Guiding Principles
- Enrollment projections
- Enrollment comparisons with other elementary schools in Lancaster County, as well as Dauphin and Lebanon and Dauphin counties
- Debt Service and Budget Impacts
- Classroom Utilization
- Teacher, Support staff, and Administration Efficiencies
- Full-Day Kindergarten
- Academic benefits or weaknesses
ENROLLMENT PROJECTIONS/ENROLLMENT COMPARISONS: Two recent enrollment studies from third-party vendors - DecisionIncite and the Pennsylvania Department of Education - were reviewed. In both studies, enrollment projections for the District held steady at current levels and even decreased over the next ten years. Coupling the projections with the open classrooms at the primary level and favorable comparisons with other neighboring elementary schools (3 of the smallest elementary schools in the tri-county area), the review of consolidation moved to a review of the budget and debt service impacts; academic benefits; staff utilization at all levels; and whether or not full-day kindergarten was possible with both a neighborhood or community school configuration.
DEBT SERVICE/BUDGET IMPACTS: The District reviewed financial data presented by Public Financial Management (PFM) at the November 13, 2018, regular meeting of the board. PFM illustrated the impact of $9 million; $14 million; and $50 million in debt service for future construction projects including the lower level of the middle school, Rheems Elementary, and the secondary school complex. If all roughly $73 million was borrowed for school renovations, over 43% of an estimated 3% tax increase would be needed to cover debt service payments for at least the next eight years. This would leave only a little over $600,000 to cover all other increases to the District budget including salary increases dictated by the collective bargaining agreement, mandatory contributions to the Pennsylvania State Education Retirement System (PSERS), healthcare increases, utilities, special education, etc. To put this into perspective, salary and PSERS increases are estimated at over $971,000 annually or more than $300,000 more than the $600,000 available to cover non-debt service related increases.
CLASSROOM UTILIZATION AND STAFF EFFICIENCIES: In reviewing classroom utilization at current enrollment and teacher levels, maintaining neighborhood elementary schools, class sizes vary between 14 students at one grade level to 25 at other grade levels. When looking at a possible lineup of teachers and enrollment under community-based elementary schools, class sizes hovered around 20 for all grade levels. In addition, the number of sections needed per grade level may decrease under a community-based configuration allowing the re-allocation of teachers to other grade levels where the support is needed. Other highlights include the probability that special education services can be better allocated between two buildings with increased supports in place under a consolidated approach.
FULL DAY KINDERGARTEN: Space for full-day kindergarten on a “student needs basis” is possible under both configurations. However, under a neighborhood configuration, additional teachers would need to be hired while under the consolidated approach, current EASD teachers could be re-assigned to the kindergarten level to cover the full-day classrooms.
At the conclusion of the presentation, the school directors were tasked with reviewing the information, speaking with constituents, and forming an opinion with the goal of determining whether there is a consensus of the board to maintain neighborhood elementary schools and pursue renovations to Rheems Elementary OR consolidate to two elementary schools. The board anticipates making a decision at the March 24, 2020, school board meeting.
For the full presentation, CLICK HERE.
For elementary enrollment comparisons, CLICK HERE.