News — 01 October 2009

For the second time in as many years, the citys public school population has eclipsed the divisions projected enrollment numbers, further crowding campuses and reaffirming school leaders concerns from last year.

Through September 23, Alexandria City Public Schools reported that 11,757 students were enrolled across the citys 17 school campuses. A three-decade high, that number trumps what school leaders forecasted during the first week of class two weeks ago, when enrollment more closely reflected projections.

Thirty-one years ago, we had 11,863 students, said ACPS Superintendent Morton Sherman at last Thursdays School Board meeting. As of yesterday, we had 11,757.

Since the 2006-2007 school year, Alexandrias public school enrollment has increased by more than 1,400 students a 13.7-percent increase overall, according to the figures.

The situation, already stressed at some schools after last years enrollment boom, has been exacerbated with the total population rising 525 students above 2008-2009 levels and roughly 227 students above projections, according to an enrollment report.

Last spring, school leaders said they expected the student population to continue rising by some 1,600 students through the 2014-2015 school year. This years increase puts them about a third of the way there.

We have significant issues facing us significant and growing each day well beyond even what I presented to you two weeks ago, Sherman said.

Last year, Alexandria experienced the highest percentage enrollment increase in Virginia at 6.3 percent.

This September, those numbers are already up 4.9 percent, according to Sherman, with elementary schools seeing the largest spike in numbers albeit from a smaller enrollment pool.

According to Sherman, the elementary schools experiencing the biggest increases include Matthew Maury (16.5 percent), Mount Vernon (14), William Ramsay (12.7), Charles Barrett (9.8), Samuel Tucker (9.7) and John Adams (9.6).

Tucker and Ramsay are both over 700 students and three schools Douglas MacArthur, Adams and Mount Vernon now have more than 600 students.

We have many of our schools over capacity, not just at capacity, Sherman said.

Prior to Shermans report to the School Board, a series of PTA representatives from across the city shared their concerns about ballooning numbers at their schools, many posing direct questions to school leaders about their plans to alleviate these new pressures.

How can we temporarily balance a potential increase of more students more evenly across ACPS elementary schools, or what other ideas do you have? asked Janice McLaury, representing the Tucker PTA. Is ACPS considering alternatives for this year for new students who plan to register at any of these five schools already busting at the seams?

A sense of understanding for the big picture primarily, planning for another lean budget year also accompanied questions about the future.

We realize that it is what it is for now at 710 students, McLaury said. We believe, though, that another dozen students could put us at a critical juncture.

Sherman called the issue very, very pressing and hinted at some measures the district could take to relieve the pressure felt within some school buildings.

One of the proposals that Im looking at is to put some kind of moratorium this year or next on some of our application processes for where we place children in schools, Sherman said. I think we need some drastic measures that address these increasing enrollments.

Were going to begin looking very quickly at policy changes and procedural changes which will place children in schools where we have room.

Charles Wilson, the School Boards longest-tenured member, said he was upset with himself for not pushing to have a full-fledged contingency plan dealing with enrollment issues.

Being military, Ive been steeped in the tradition that contingency plans are necessary for everything and the more likely that occurrence, the more important that contingency plan should be, Wilson said.

Overcrowding is a perpetual problem, so Im surprised that we dont have a contingency plan for overcrowded schools and not just at the projection, but I suggest that we go above and below that number, he said, adding that he expects things will change now.

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