District ‘Safety and Space’ Effort Looks at Facility Needs, Solutions for Crowding

  • This semester, the Webster Groves School District began a process to inform the community about school safety and space issues and ask residents for their thoughts and ideas on the future direction of the school system. A series of public forums held at each school kicked off the process, followed by a districtwide survey, focus groups and open houses. As the semester continues, the public will have more opportunities to take part in the decision-making process through additional community meetings and surveys.

    In November, the Building Advisory and Finance Advisory committees, which are citizens committees, will set priorities and develop a funding plan. Another meeting and community survey will be scheduled in November/December and the Board of Education will receive recommendations/options in January.

    Safety priorities include

    • Construction of single point of entry for schools, secure vestibules, cameras and service windows
    • Secure doors on all classrooms and offices (interior locks, master key, glass mitigation)
    • Alarms for all exterior doors, which must close and latch properly. Replace if necessary

    Space priorities include accessibility issues

    • Elevators and ramps
    • Asbestos abatement in maintenance tunnels and crawl space at Clark, Edgar Road, Hixson and the High School.
    • Install chairlift at Avery for cafeteria access
    • Restroom and miscellaneous modifications at all schools

    In addition, as the district enrollment has climbed, elementary schools have become more crowded, particularly Edgar Road, Avery and Bristol. The district is asking the community for ideas and opinions on what steps to take to alleviate the crowding. Edgar Road, Clark and Avery currently have modular units that accommodate two classrooms each. Edgar Road has two such modulars and will need another one soon.

    The district determined the safety and space issues listed above by completing several separate assessments of needs in the facilities area including maintenance, accessibility and safety/security. These studies, as well as enrollment documents showing the upward trend in the number of students, are posted online on the Safety and Space page, under the About Us tab on the district home page www.webster.k12.mo.us

    You’ll find documents, including facilities assessments completed over the last year as well as reports on enrollment and building capacities and a spreadsheet showing the ideas and opinions voiced during the forums. In addition, the page includes a Frequently Asked Questions section and a video from the public forum presentation at Hudson School in September. We plan to continue updating the page with new materials as they’re developed.

    Modular units at Edgar Road Door-to-office Distance at Clark
    This photo shows the two modular classrooms currently at Edgar Road School. The school may need another one because of the growing number of students. This photo shows the long distance from a door off the Clark parking lot where visitors get buzzed in, to the office. A single point of entry, with a secure vestibule, would enhance safety.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Safety and Space
    How did the district determine these safety and space needs?
    Over the past year, the district completed several separate assessments of needs in the facilities area including maintenance, accessibility, safety/security and space. These studies are posted online on the Safety and Space page here https://www.webster.k12.mo.us/Page/20329

    Are our school buildings safe?
    Yes, our schools are safe. Over the past several years, the district has taken many steps to improve safety, including installing cameras and door buzzers, providing regular training for all staff members and more. However, there’s always room to improve as best practices in school security evolve and as new technology continues to offer better security options.

    How would you pay for these safety and space improvements?
    While the district may be able to cover some items each year in its budget, some of the renovation/improvement work would require a bond issue. Thanks to the district’s proactive debt management and growing tax base, there may be a significant amount of bonding capacity available even without a tax increase. However, whether or not that available capacity would be enough to address all district needs is yet to be determined.

    How crowded are the schools?
    Crowding in the district is at the elementary level. The district has placed modular units – which contain two classrooms – at Avery, Clark and Edgar Road. Avery and Clark have one modular; Edgar Road has two and will possibly need more. You can see a capacity analysis here https://www.webster.k12.mo.us/Page/20329

    What are the class size standards for the elementary schools?
    The School Board policy sets class size standards for kindergarten through high school. For elementary schools, the standards are as follows:
    K-2 17 students
    3-4 20
    5-6 22
    The district’s practice is to split a class into two sections when the number of children exceeds the standard by four.

    What is the current enrollment? How does that compare to ten years ago?
    In fall of 2008, enrollment was 4183 students. The official September count this year was 4426.

    What is the Board of Education’s position on addressing the crowding caused by higher enrollment?
    The School Board has directed the administration to consider all options when looking at the increase and come up with a plan that is best for children and financially responsible.

    What does the district’s recent enrollment study say about enrollment trends?
    The study projects a steady increase in enrollment. See Enrollment Report Jan. 2018 here https://www.webster.k12.mo.us/Page/20329

    Does the study take into account the number of non-resident children attending here?
    The study only considered the birth rate within the district’s boundaries.

    Does the study take into account the number of children who may go to private/parochial schools?
    Yes, the study correlates the historical “yield” of births in the district that eventually enroll in kindergarten five years later. A reasonable version of this yield is then used in computing future enrollment projections.

    How many non-resident children does the district enroll?
    Currently, the district enrolls 98 students in the voluntary transfer plan from the city of St. Louis, seven students from Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts and 80 children of staff members.

    Special thanks to Webster Groves High School Emma Binder, who’s interning with the district community relations office, for her contributions to this issue of Our Schools.