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Dallara: Schools could face growth problems

March 21, 2007|by JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Waynesboro Area School District Superintendent Barry Dallara periodically updates a color-coded map of housing developments that shows the various stages of progress.

"It starts to look like an artillery impact range," Dallara said Tuesday while the March 2007 version of the map glowed on a screen.

Dallara's multimedia presentation to the Waynesboro School Board about demographics, grade-level alignment and building needs largely focused on the administration's concerns about how the red, green and yellow shapes on the map could easily represent thousands of families moving into the district in the next two decades.

The ongoing $46 million construction effort at the Waynesboro Area Senior High School will equip that facility to handle an additional 200 students without significant problems, but other schools have no growth space or just one extra classroom, according to Dallara.

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Summitview Elementary School soon will need four classrooms per grade level and will be short a classroom in the 2008-09 school year if projections from live births hold accurate, Dallara said.

He presented elementary school data that shows more than 300 children enrolled per grade from kindergarten to fourth grade. When the high school project wraps up in two years, Dallara believes there will be close to 400 students per grade level in every building except some of the elementary schools.

"When our elementary students move to the middle school, we have an additional 20 to 40 students enter our school system," Dallara said. That is often due to parochial and other private school students moving into the public system, he said.

Dallara said the board initiated a grade-level alignment and facilities study in April 2004 - when it knew of 100 single-family homes in development - and agreed a ninth-grade academy would benefit new high schoolers.

"If a child fails ninth grade, there is a 90 percent chance that child will not graduate high school," Dallara said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education placed the Waynesboro Area School District on a warning list in August 2006 for not meeting a state graduation rate target of 80 percent.

Once it agreed to the ninth grade academy, the board began talks about renovating the high school and had its project redesigned by architectural firm EI Associates of Harrisburg, Pa., four times while seeing a building boom.

Now, the architects are working on a proposal to bring modular classrooms to Hooverville Elementary School. They also are expected to discuss the option of building several $190,000 permanent classrooms there, which is something Dallara said would be feasible if kindergarten registration indicates the board can wait.

Taxpayers have already absorbed 4.5 mills of property taxes to fund the 11.6-mill high school project. An additional mill of taxes for the high school has been included in drafts of next year's budget, Business Manager Caroline Dean.

New elements in the mix when considering school demographics include the redevelopment of Fort Ritchie and an increased percentage of town houses and condominiums in development.

"As single-family house sales slow down, there has been a shift with developers wanting to build more multi-family units," Dallara said.

District enrollment was at 4,241 in 1996-97 and dipped to just less than 4,100 in the early part of this decade. It stands at 4,174 this school year.

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