Education

Natomas Unified sees student boom on the horizon

Daisha Correa, center, and other students pick out a free book in the library at Bannon Creek Elementary School in Natomas in 2010. Natomas Unified School District leaders may add portable classrooms and shift sixth-graders to middle school to reduce potential overcrowding.
Daisha Correa, center, and other students pick out a free book in the library at Bannon Creek Elementary School in Natomas in 2010. Natomas Unified School District leaders may add portable classrooms and shift sixth-graders to middle school to reduce potential overcrowding. lsterling@sacbee.com

Anticipating a boom in student enrollment, Natomas Unified could move sixth-graders to middle schools, adjust boundaries, cap enrollment and add portable classrooms next school year to reduce potential overcrowding.

As the housing market has recovered, the Natomas district has grown in recent years despite a building moratorium in place since 2008 due to flood risks. That growth is likely to explode over the next decade if the moratorium is lifted this summer, as expected.

Once the federal government gives the OK, thousands of home sites with wiring and plumbing already in place are expected to be completed, drawing families and more students to Natomas schools. Development is expected to continue to grow at a steady clip, increasing student enrollment from 13,800 students this year to 23,184 students in 10 years, according to district projections.

Superintendent Chris Evans said district officials have discussed how to deal with overcrowding since September 2013. The district has little choice but to juggle students in the short term because it is prohibited from building schools during the moratorium.

Once the moratorium is lifted, homes can be built much quicker than the three- to four-year time frame it takes to build a school. This means schools face an influx of students before they can accommodate them, Evans said.

“We are finally getting to the point where we want to have a decision,” Evans told parents at Jefferson Elementary School on Tuesday night. He said school staff will continue to collect parent input on the matter, and the school board will make a decision in the next month.

The district can’t increase class sizes in transitional kindergarten through third grade because of state penalties “so large we would have to make massive budget cuts,” he said. Districts generally must show they are reducing class sizes in transitional kindergarten through third grade to 24 students by 2020 in order to avoid fines.

Options include:

▪ Move most sixth-graders to middle schools. This would shift students from crowded elementary campuses to more roomy middle schools. All future schools would be designed as K-5 programs.

▪ Boundary shifts could affect American Lakes, H. Allen Hight, Jefferson, Witter Ranch and Natomas Park elementary schools, as well as Heron K-8, to shift students at crowded campuses to schools with more space.

▪ Add portables to alleviate crowding while waiting to complete new facilities. The district’s facilities master plan calls for reducing the number of portables and constructing new permanent classrooms. An estimated 16 portables would be needed to house students by 2016-17, at a total cost of $3.2 million.

▪ Cap enrollment at specific schools; also prohibit enrollment of students from outside the district if they would displace students who live in the district.

The district may eventually consider moving some schools to a year-round schedule, although this measure is not being considered for this fall.

Parent Mayra Gonzalez was one of a handful of parents to attend a meeting at Jefferson Elementary School on Tuesday night. “It opened my eyes to how (the district) is growing,” she said. “I didn’t realize how overcrowded it is.”

Gonzalez is concerned about the potential for boundary changes, but wouldn’t mind having her children in year-round school.

In November, the district surveyed parents to determine how they felt about the options. According to survey results, none of the proposals drew overwhelming opposition from the 598 parents who responded. Boundary changes were the least popular idea.

Call The Bee’s Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert.

Parent meetings

Natomas Unified will hold parent meetings at district schools throughout the month. The meetings will offer specific information about potential changes at each school and allow parents to ask questions and submit input. All meetings are at 6 p.m.

Thursday: Heron K-8

Monday: American Lakes; Two Rivers

Tuesday: H. Allen Hight and Natomas Middle School; Leroy Greene Academy

Jan. 15: Witter Ranch

Jan. 20: Natomas Gateway

Source: Natomas Unified School District

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

  Comments