Space: Excess Capacity, Cratering Student Enrollment, and Hope due to School Choice
Space. It’s simultaneously both a tremendous problem and a marvelous opportunity for the Woodland Park School District. The excess space issue in our school facilities has been looked at multiple times over the last decades without a solution. The problem was exacerbated by cratering student enrollment from 2512 in 2018 to 1832 last year, The study commissioned by the previous school board (https://wpsdk12.org/uploads/siteImages/3-29-22-FMP-Presentation.pdf) estimated last March that the enrollment numbers will continue to decline to 1,439 students in 2032. Last year’s utilization of the functional, not full, capacity of the school district facilities was 51%. 1439 students would represent utilization of under 40%. This misalignment of resources affects all other aspects of district resources. Want to pay teachers more? Fix the space issue. More resources for increased technical training? Fix the space issue. Free dollars for needed maintenance? Fix the space issue.
But fixing something like “space” is tough. A strong NIMBY effect kicks in when discussions about school building functions and utilizations come up. This is understandable – all district taxpayers contributed their hard earned money to build these schools. No one wants their families’ plans and tempo disrupted. However, unfounded claims about magical population increases years away or families somehow overflowing a modest apartment proposal yet to be built are not helpful for finding creative, rational solutions.
This is where the opportunity part of the equation comes in. Classrooms are not in short supply. Despite about $34,000,000 in maintenance costs estimated for the next 5+ years, infrastructure is in relatively ok shape. We have 2 elementary schools only 1.5 driving miles apart. The High School is centrally located with multiple configuration possibilities. There is slack in the system that can be used creatively to both provide opportunities for current students and develop programs that will attract additional ones. The future does not have to be a district with only 1439 students in an increasingly aged county.
To change our fate, we will have to consider different choices than we have right now. We may have to let go of the past to gain a better future. This year saw an important reversal as the district created pre-K at Summit and creatively utilized the Middle School to add over 300 students, a 15% increase in enrollment. Further changes in approach, curriculum, governance, and purpose will be required to continue this upward swing. There will be challenges on this path. However, not following the route of innovation, adaptation, and change will only continue the downward trend of the last two decades. Instead, let's explore new solutions and seek new life for the district.