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As student enrollment climbs, plans in the works for new spaces to learn

BY DR. CHAD HIGGINS 
 
 
Maize USD 266 student enrollment is growing rapidly. Just as a family would plan to make room when expecting an addition, we at Maize Schools are looking ahead to the future.
 
The district hosted a facilities planning meeting on Jan. 28. Our schools are 89 percent full. We grow by about 10 students a month and are running out of room in our elementary schools, which are 95 percent full, and our middle schools, which are 90 percent full. About 60 new students have joined us this month alone. Residential construction in our district continues. We plan to hire new teachers next year to accommodate this growth, approximately 500 new students in two years, which will cost the district more than $1 million. It's not enough: We need our great teachers and students to have appropriately sized classes and ideal spaces to learn.
 
We have assembled a team to explore options for new space for our school district. This may mean renovating, expanding, building, and/or even reconfiguring grade level organization within our schools. This involves considering which grades are housed in different schools and how our students transition from one level to the next, such as from elementary to middle school. Major options being considered include the addition of one or two elementary schools, repurposing an elementary school for middle school use, or adding a new middle school. Expanding space onto existing schools is an option only at a few sites and still only solves a portion of the problem temporarily.
 
Our team, which met Monday for the first time, currently consists of 38 students, parents, teachers, Maize Board of Education members, architects, and other district employees who already are engaged in our school community. They represent different perspectives, different schools, and children of various ages. This week, they began to discuss the pros and cons of various options. I will continue to encourage them to use data and research to guide the process and to question and challenge the plans as they develop. We want the best for our students.
 
We are working under a deadline for two reasons. For starters, new classroom and school space takes time to develop and construct. There is a new reason now that we must plan ahead: New state legislation limits the amount of bond money that schools statewide can cumulatively seek each year. With our Maize Board of Education's approval, I intend to approach the Kansas State Board of Education on July 1, the earliest opportunity possible, to request approval to pursue any bond funding we may need. A proposal that reaches the state board after July 1 would likely result in a one-year delay in the process. If our growth continues, this could mean the purchase, installation, and use of temporary modular units for the space required. Even with the state’s approval, such proposal still would go before our OneMa1ze community members for consideration via an election.
 
Thanks to some fiscally responsible decision-making and budgeting during the past decade, it would be possible for the district to use Capital Outlay money to fund some projects. Again, just like a family considering its budget, we must make careful decisions that consider short- and long-term needs and are the most fiscally responsible. That will happen in the coming six months. Regardless of which outcomes are selected as the best solutions for our district, change will have to happen, and change is difficult.
 
The team and I will meet regularly to review school capacity and enrollment, projection estimates, and options. We will consider classroom sizes, costs, and ideal learning environments. We will discuss related needs, including technology and school safety. We have a lot of work to do and the best reason to do that work. We will continue to update you as we progress through the process. I thank you in advance for your ongoing support. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions, please e-mail facilityplanning@usd266.com.
 
Sincerely,
 
Dr. Chad Higgins, Superintendent of Schools