Editor’s Note: The Herald-Mail took a tour of the Greencastle-Antrim Middle School and High School during the first week of school with Schools Superintendent C. Gregory Hoover and building principals Mark Herman and Edward Rife.
With a new school year under way, the Greencastle-Antrim School District continues to wrestle with the growing concern of how to handle an expanding student population, coupled with stagnant state funding and a tax-weary community.
When Schools Superintendent C. Gregory Hoover said “there’s no room” during last week’s Greencastle-Antrim School Board meeting, he was not exaggerating.
Students in Terri Orkwisewski’s Greencastle-Antrim High School biology classroom were packed into Room 214 like sardines.
Room 214 was originally meant for 24 students, but more than 35 students were crammed into the room on the first week of school.
“It’s about the size of my office,” high school Principal Edward Rife said.
One student sat in the front of the class on a wooden stool.
“We try to find chairs to put in there, but even when you find a chair to put in there — there is no room to put it,” Rife said.
“It’s like teaching in a shoebox,” Orkwisewski said.
Since then, Rife has moved the entire class to a larger room. But, the new space is farther from the biology lab.
Lauren Hood’s Latin class is also filled to capacity.
There are between 34 and 38 students in each of her Latin classes, Rife said.
Hood has to squeeze between rows of desks that were scrunched together as she attempted to check student’s work.
There are no empty seats in the cafeteria, Rife said.
The auditorium has seating for 1,008.
“We’re pushing the limits there, too,” Rife said.
“They renovated the high school in 1990, and we were down in numbers in 1990,” Hoover said.
Currently, there are 976 students in the high school, Rife said.
“There is just no room,” Hoover said.
Middle school Principal Mark Herman is also dealing with an overcrowding situation. This year’s population at the middle school is 740.
Numbers in seventh and eighth grades are up, Herman said.
Fortunately, numbers in the sixth-grade class are smaller than usual, he said.
The biggest crunch in the middle school is in language arts and math in seventh and eighth grade, Herman said.
“It limits the amount of personal attention that the students are going to get, and that hinders the instructional process,” he said.
It’s a delicate balancing act for educators, but Hoover said so far, everyone has been taking the overcrowding in stride.
“We really have a great faculty and a great student body,” Rife said. “They roll with it. The teachers understand the situation that we’re in.”
“I believe everybody understands our growth and how it’s affecting physical space and class size, and that there is no easy answer,” Hoover said.
“Financially, we have a very tight budget. It’s just not practical to add trailers and teachers — we can’t afford to do that,” he said.
Hoover said it would cost $175,000 to put a full-time teacher and a trailer on site.
“Take that times 10 and you are over a million dollars,” Hoover said “That’s what we would really need (to solve the space problem).”
Right now, there is $4 million in the fund balance, but Hoover said the school system doesn’t want to deplete that.
The answer to the money problem is state funding, he said.
“We believe state funding has really hampered Greencastle-Antrim,” Hoover said.
He said the issue goes back to the 1991 “hold harmless” provision of the education code, which said no school district can receive less state funding than the year before and is based on the 1990 census.
“At that time we were sitting at 2,100 or 2,200 (students), and 20 years later we’re 1,000 bigger, and we’re not getting money to match our student growth,” Hoover said.
“Right now, it falls on us locally, and it’s not fair,” Hoover said
“This is one of those solutions where people say money doesn’t solve everything. Well, this is one of those solutions where money would solve it, and we don’t have the money,” he said.
With every nook and cranny being used, Hoover said the school district can’t delay the building project any longer.
“Not only are we looking at renovation and additions to the buildings, but we’re looking at how to temporarily overcome our (overcrowding) problems,” he said.
At today’s school board meeting, the school board is expected to vote on breathing new life into the building project it shelved in 2011 when the economy soured.
The board will vote to have EI Associates of Harrisburg, Pa., move forward with information gathering for the project known as high school/middle school addition and renovation.
The board also will vote on having EI Associates submit a LEED grant for the school district that could help fund a portion of the project. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
The board meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the library of the Greencastle-Antrim Middle School.