Jefferson County Public Schools is considering its next steps with a population shifting eastward, while considering where students in unique groups—like limited English learners and early childhood education—will be living in the next few years.

All but one of JCPS’ 13 elementary school clusters (areas in which parents can choose schools) will have enough capacity to seat students through 2017, according to projections presented to the school board Monday.

But some schools in the East End will be nearing—and in some cases exceeding—capacity by that time, which has forced the district to begin crafting a long-term plan.

Cluster 8, which covers a large portion of southeast Jefferson County, is projected to have a capacity deficit of 190 students by 2017.

Since 2005, about 35 percent of homes built in Jefferson County have been in the East End, the report showed. And those East End elementary school clusters (8, 9, 10) are projected to have fewer seats available by 2017 than other clusters around the county.

“We’re going to look at the population shift, but at the same time you really have to look at the voice of your customer and what they want,” says Chief Operations Officer Mike Raisor.

This means JCPS is also considering growth in specific student populations.

“We need early childhood seats,” says Raisor.

Kentucky—like many states—has emphasized the need for quality early childhood education programs. Early childhood education has struggled to receive adequate funding through the state, but JCPS still wants to anticipate trends in the data, which show pockets of early childhood education students concentrated in specific areas around the county. 

The areas of Jefferson County with the highest early childhood needs include the West End, downtown, the Fern Creek region and the Dixie Highway corridor. But the need for early childhood programming cannot be compared to areas where student populations are expected to grow.

Atkinson Elementary School is among the schools with the greatest early childhood education needs, Raisor says. But the school is projected to have 291 vacant seats in 2017.

Over the next few months, JCPS staff will consider data points like this and will create a plan with various long-term and possibly short-term solutions, like adding more early childhood programming to Atkinson, says Bob Rodosky, director of data management, evaluation and planning.

But board members brought up several questions Monday that JCPS staff will need to consider while writing their proposal.

“To put everybody at Atkinson, that would increase time on the bus for little children and we say we don’t want to do that,” says JCPS board chair Diana Porter.

Another growing population group is the district’s English as a Second Language (ESL) students that, again, show up in concentrated clusters in certain parts of the county.

There is only one school—the Newcomer Academy—that is dedicated to serve immigrant and refugee students in Jefferson County and that number is expected to rise.

“We’re going to need Newcomer Academy seats,” said Raisor.

That could include more programs that look a lot like Newcomer Academy placed in areas of the district with the most need.

The answer to some of these issues include new schools.

But new facilities can range between $10 million for early childhood to as much as $90 million for a new high school, and the land that JCPS is currently considering to build new facilities might not be in the right places, Rodosky admits.

That includes Atherton High School, Fairdale High School, Westport Middle School and Norton Commons. Board members also brought up the idea of having someone donate land to the district, which has been done in the past.

JCPS receives uses $30 million in facilities funding each year. This pays for renovations, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and roofs and more funding from the state cannot be counted on, Raisor says. So, the district may have to pull funding from other resources, he says.

“There’s probably going to be some spending increases, but at the same time we’re going to have to look for cost savings to marry with those,” Raisor says.

But not everything has to cost money, Rodosky says, like redrawing boundary lines to add some students from one cluster to another. 

Lastly, the district wants to address increased student population caused by the state’s new dropout age of 18, that will force JCPS to serve hundreds of additional students beginning the 2015-2016 school year.

The district’s plan is being rolled out in three phases, beginning with the data phase this week. Over the next few months, JCPS staff will develop its proposal and return to the board in March, with a potential board vote in June 2014.

(Image via Shutterstock)