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Elementary schools are still full

At last week's board of education meeting, the Hudson School District administration revealed its plan for how to deal with overcrowding at two of its elementary schools. But even if the plan is successful, the solution is only short term.

The plan will require that some kindergarten students from both Rock and Hudson Prairie Elementary schools attend either North Hudson or Willow River schools next fall. The district is asking for volunteers. If not enough families volunteer their students, the district may have to resort to a non-voluntary method of determining who will be reassigned. The district does not intend to change school boundaries for the upcoming school year.

The report was delivered by Director of Personnel Bob Benoy, who explained that the administration had conducted a thorough review of every elementary building and met with staff at each to determine the maximum student capacity at each school while still maintaining the district's guidelines for class size.

Benoy referred to school capacity figures commissioned by the district from ATS&R, a firm specializing in school layout and design, two years ago. Benoy said that the ATS&R figures were based on the "ideal" for each school and each class. In this new review, the idea was to find the maximum number of students that could be housed in each building, using the upper end of the class size guidelines as the cutoff.

The district's class size guidelines are 18-22 students for grades K-2, and 22-27 students for grades 3-12.

As is noted in the chart with this story, both Rock and Hudson Prairie are over capacity with their current enrollment. That number does not include the 60-65 students in the Fleet Farm area (which is within the boundary for Rock School) who have been attending North Hudson Elementary for the last four years.

Benoy said that with the revised capacity figures, there will be room for those kindergarten students this fall at Willow River and North Hudson. However, by the following year, North Hudson will be over capacity along with Rock and Hudson Prairie.

The only schools with room will be Willow River and Houlton, but the bus ride to Houlton, especially for students on the south end of the district, could involve an hour or more, too long by district standards.

The school enrollments used in the chart represent only students currently attending Hudson schools and those who registered for kindergarten next year at this spring's roundup. Benoy said the numbers do not reflect any growth in the district's overall enrollment, which has been between 2-3 percent annually for the past several years, or students enrolled in early childhood programs.

Currently, 409 students have registered for kindergarten in the fall; the district had projected 388.

Board members voiced approval of the administration's new numbers. Nancy Donovan, a board member since 1990, said she liked the new numbers because they were more realistic and less ideal. She cautioned that among the people who should be informed of the plan are real estate agents who should alert new residents that their children may not be attending the school in their neighborhood.

Board member Mark Kaisersatt agreed. "The new numbers may not be ideal, but we have to operate in the real world. This shows a good-faith effort to deal with our situation."

Board member Dan Tjornehoj said the new numbers represent the maximum the buildings can hold. "We can't squeeze them anymore. Beyond this point, we start to compromise the students' educational experience."

Board member Dick Muenich said he was distressed by the overcrowded conditions at Rock School in recent years as compared to the relatively small enrollment at Houlton Elementary. "It's just not fair or equitable for the students involved."

Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten said the plan is only a short-term solution. "We need to use the little space we have to avoid redistricting. If we redistricted students, some of them would face attending as many as three schools during their elementary years.

Benoy said the issue of overcrowding at Hudson High School will be addressed at the May school board meeting. Benoy said the high school can accommodate 1,550 based on the revised capacity figures. The current enrollment at HHS is 104 students over that number.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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