NEW ALBANY – A decade of continued student growth is expected to come to New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp., leaving the district to decide what to do, as many buildings already exceed capacity.
Preliminary results of a new demographic study shows steady student resident growth in New Albany and more growth in the county areas, including Georgetown, according to Superintendent Brad Snyder. The study analyzed data prior to Oct. 25, which means it didn’t take into account all of the recent new subdivisions approved for the Georgetown area, adding up to hundreds of more homes in that area. The numbers also don’t take into account out-of-district transfer students, where students living in other districts choose to attend a NAFC school.
Schools in the county area are inching toward or exceeded their capacity limits.
Snyder said he views 85 percent as being at capacity and full. He said Georgetown Elementary is at 108 percent, Floyds Knobs Elementary is at 109 percent, Highland Hills Middle School is at 110 percent and Floyd Central High School is at 95 percent. That is the capacity before tackling a decade of growth.
Though the final report is still in the works and is expected to be presented to the public toward the end of January, Snyder said the results are clear.
“I think the conclusion is very obvious – that growth is coming,” Snyder told the board. “The city growth when you see it, in my judgment, it looks like its growth that we have a reasonable shot at managing through it with our existing facilities. When you get to see the county growth, it’s very, very difficult for me to see how we are going to make it with the capacity we have.”
Facilities director Bill Wiseheart said options to address that growth include building new schools, adding on to existing schools, utilizing portable classrooms or limiting out-of-district transfers into NAFC schools.
The demographic report expects NAFC schools to see an overall increase of 1,316 students spread out over 10 years, Snyder said. Right now, the district has 11,654 students, with 928 of those being out-of-district transfer students, according to the Indiana Department of Education fall 2019 data. With schools being funded per student, out-of-district students add up to more than $5.7 million, when taking into account the average $6,200 per pupil.
Snyder used the example of Highland Hills, where there are 152 transfer students this year. That school is expected to see a 22 percent increase in resident students over the course of 10 years, not including additional transfer growth.
“If we were to disallow all 152 of those transfers from attending that school, we would still be over capacity with more coming,” Snyder said. “In and of itself, [ending transfers] will not solve the growth projections.”
“We don’t really want to close our borders, but, you know, if we get ourselves tight, we might stop taking new [transfers],” Wiseheart said. “I don’t think we’re going to be turning people away.”
Wiseheart said there was a point in time when the district had nearly 20 portable classrooms and later replaced them after buildings were expanded.
Years ago, the district shuttered four schools, including Galena Elementary and Silver Street Elementary, a decision that was highly contested by residents at the time.
“We had a demographic study that was holding us pretty flat and we had funding cut on us and unfortunately had to make a lot of tough decisions,” Wiseheart said of the closures. “You have to survive. You have to do what you need to do and so we had to close schools and consolidate and try to become more efficient, which we did. And we got ourselves in the black. We’re still in the black.”
He said those buildings have been sold or are too costly to use now. Wiseheart said renovating those would cost more than building new or adding on to another building, due to the age and condition of those closed buildings. Looking back, he said closing those buildings was the right decision. He said new buildings can better address the needs of students today, with new technology and safety concerns, adding that building a new Green Valley Elementary recently was a better choice than renovating the older building.
Wiseheart said he expects the decision on how to handle the expected growth to come closer to summer, as the district discusses more details about its strategic plan. He said he and the administrative team will make recommendations to the board based on the information available, but the final decision is out of his hands.
"It's ultimately up to the board on what we do," Wiseheart said.