Published Thursday, February 07, 2013
By REBECCA LEFTWICH
Preliminary plans for expansion, renovation and modification at East Coweta High School were presented to the Coweta County Board of Education at a called meeting last month.
East Coweta is the county's most-populated high school with more than 2,800 students on roll this year. A campus-wide renovation and modification project – expected to take three years – already is scheduled to begin later this year, and Superintendent Steve Barker has asked board members to consider expanding classroom space as part of the project.
"We're not looking at class size or teacher-pupil ratio," Barker said. "We're looking at student movement patterns and the number of students trying to exist during the school day in that space."
Insurance increases, austerity reductions and lack of state funding as well as unknown factors could further negatively impact the school system’s already strained budget, Barker said, and as the board plans for future growth it must carefully consider costs.
"As we talk about facilities and renovation, we can’t forget where we are in our operational budget," Barker said. "The budget situation has constantly got to be at the front of our thoughts.”
Enrollment at East Coweta is projected to reach nearly 3,000 – maxing out the school’s capacity – in 2014. Barker recommended the board approve the addition of 15 instructional units "through repurposing and expansion" as part of the renovation and modification project.
Concern over operational costs led to the board’s October decision to delay construction of a new middle school and turn the focus on utilizing existing facilities.
"We just don't have the luxury to add facilities out of pure desire to add them," Barker said. "We have to maximize our current facilites."
A new high school would cost an estimated $4.3 million to operate.
"Until we have to, we do not want to do that," Barker said. "We are using business and industry logic on this kind of project, keeping the fixed cost low, using and maximizing existing facilities and expanding our service delivery model."
However, more classroom space will require more staff, Barker said.
"We will absolutely have to spend some money on personnel," he said. "But even if we spent $1 million on personnel, it's still a $3.3 million savings over new school costs."
By adding classroom space and expanding off-campus learning opportunities such as dual enrollment, early graduation, offerings at the school system's Central Educational Center in Newnan, virtual and work-based learning, Barker said the school system can effectively alleviate overcrowding at ECHS.
Increasingly, students from Coweta's three base high schools – East Coweta, Newnan and Northgate – are taking some or all of their classes at CEC. Those students remain on high school rolls but are not physically present for at least part of the day, and managing their open seats can help alleviate overcrowding.
"Enrollment numbers are not taking anybody out for off-campus learning," Barker said. "Projections are for people on roll, but they're lower in terms of actual bodies on campus moving through. So the question then becomes how large do you want school to be?
"When you think of how we deliver learning for students, we're seeing more and more that's not happening within the walls of classroom," Barker said. "We need to make sure we're promoting this kind of opportunity and not just making good decisions about facilities."