Fruita schools full to brim

Students may be shuffled

Boundary lines for two Fruita elementary schools may soon change to ease crowding.

Rim Rock Elementary and Shelledy Elementary have 76 and 64 more students, respectively, than their buildings were designed to hold. If boundary lines remain unchanged, Shannon Bingham, a Boulder-based demographer who has provided analysis for School District 51 for more than a decade, estimated Shelledy could be 119 students over capacity, and Rim Rock could be 176 students past capacity in five years.

Eight District 51 elementary schools are over capacity by anywhere from one student to 76 students. Chipeta Elementary is 71 students over-capacity but Bingham said the district could solve most of its capacity issues by decreasing the number of students from surrounding neighborhoods who were allowed to attend Chipeta instead of the school nearest their home this year. Thunder Mountain, which is 61 students past capacity, has more than 100 students each in its third through fifth grades, but lower numbers in kindergarten through second grade, so Bingham expects that school to solve its own problem within a few years. The other schools on the over-capacity list have 20 or fewer students more than they were built to hold.

Population and housing trends in Fruita, though, indicate Shelledy and Rim Rock will continue to grow, Bingham said. Rim Rock Elementary Principal Tami Kramer said class sizes already have expanded to as many as 30 students at her school. Each grade is stuffed, she said, and every classroom except for a computer lab in one of the school’s two modular units is being used by at least 24 students. The school was able to hire some part-time instructional assistants with intervention funds, but it has not been able to afford new teachers.

“There are more challenges for teachers. We have to try to meet the needs of the kids in a variety of ways,” Kramer said.

Bingham suggested to District 51 School Board members at a board meeting Monday night that the district consider shifting attendance boundary lines in the west end of the Grand Valley to bring numbers down at both schools. Bingham suggested moving Shelledy’s boundary slightly east to shift between 103 and 212 Rim Rock students to Shelledy and then move as many as 152 Shelledy students who live south of Interstate 70 and mostly west of 18 Road to either Loma or Broadway elementary schools. Kramer said the students who would go to Loma have been shifted from Shelledy to Loma and back to Shelledy within the last decade.

“It’s always hard for the families (to switch schools) because it’s a community,” Kramer said, adding, “Eventually we will run out of classroom space, and I’m sure Shelledy is in the same boat.”

Loma was 74 students under capacity as of this fall, and Broadway was 205 students below its 418-student capacity. School Board President Greg Mikolai said Tuesday the board will consider a boundary change during a future meeting, but he’s not sure when.

“It’s not an option to do nothing,” Mikolai said. “We’re concerned about the overcrowding for Shelledy and Rim Rock, so we need to find a solution for that.”

Mikolai said another scenario Bingham covered, closing Scenic Elementary and moving as many as 63 of its students to Wingate Elementary and as many as 172 of its students to Broadway Elementary, would happen only if the district has to make budget cuts. Mikolai said the board asked to see what would happen if Scenic closed only as “a budget consideration,” not because of over- or under-crowding issues.

Bingham said it makes more sense to split Scenic’s student population between Broadway and Wingate, rather than send Scenic students to other schools, because that scenario would keep students in the Redlands and send them to schools that are below capacity. Wingate currently is 31 students under capacity.

Closing Scenic would be easier than closing Broadway, Bingham said, because Broadway is the bigger school. Scenic has room for 245 students and is 95 percent full.

“Broadway could hold 70 percent of Scenic, whereas Scenic could not hold any portion of Broadway,” Bingham said.

Bingham said shifting Scenic students east rather than west may be difficult from a transportation standpoint. Dos Rios Elementary, for example, has 97 fewer students than it can fit. But sending students from the Scenic area to the northwest Orchard Mesa school would send buses across busy roads during morning rush hour, Bingham said.

Busing also factored into Bingham’s ideas about shifting the Shelledy and Rim Rock boundaries. Bingham said he prefers not to “leap frog” students from one school and cross other schools’ boundaries because it results in longer bus rides. He also didn’t want to send students directly west of Shelledy across the border to Loma Elementary because those students are walking distance from Shelledy.

The students south of the interstate in Fruita already ride a bus to Shelledy. Even though their trip to school would get longer going to Loma or the Redlands, Bingham said it would be more cost-effective than busing a new group of students.

“If we induce a busing situation, it doesn’t help the cost model at the district, because you’re adding transportation costs,” he said.

Bingham said there is no reason to shift District 51 middle and high school boundaries at this point. All local secondary schools are below capacity as of this fall’s student count except for one: Central High School. Central as of October had four more students than it was built to fit, and Bingham predicted it will be 70 students past capacity in fall 2014.

Bingham predicted the capacity issue at Central will resolve itself in fall 2018, based on enrollment in lower grade levels within its boundaries.


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