The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 4, 2013

Mankato school district says new middle school needed

By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — The Mankato Area Public School Board released district demographic data Monday, and all signs point to the need for a new middle school facility in the near future.

The district studied a variety of pre-school census data, including new births, families moving to the area who have registered for pre-school, and younger sibling information taken when older siblings are enrolled in a Mankato school, among other pools of data. That information supports enrollment projections released earlier this school year, which shows a huge boost to kindergarten through sixth-grade enrollment.

Instead of a 1 percent average growth each year, a 2 percent growth is anticipated each year over the next five years, said Supt. Sheri Allen.

“We are going to need the middle school as the elementary enrollment grows,” Allen said.

Kindergarten through sixth grade has 4,272 students this school year. In 2017-18, 4,773 students are expected to be enrolled in those grades, which is a 12 percent increase.

Compare that figure to capacity levels of elementary schools in the district. Hoover Elementary is 86 students over capacity. Franklin and Roosevelt are 17 and 16 students over capacity, respectively.

“You want to be at 90 percent capacity. You want to have some room for movement,” said Jerry Kolander, director of business affairs, who noted cafeteria space, commons areas and media spaces.

Allen offered Franklin as an example of pressure that could be alleviated by adding a middle school. With the majority of growth anticipated on the east side of the district, about 300 students would be moved out of Franklin at the sixth-grade level into a middle school building, which would house grades 6, 7 and 8.

Allen said the district will discuss the middle school plan in depth in April during the budget process.

In the meantime, the district has been combating issues with building capacity and class sizes by doing such things as shifting boundaries, which has alleviated pressure on Washington and Hoover, for example.

“You’ll notice that these (capacity) numbers are quickly becoming smaller,” Allen said.

School Board member Sara Hansen asked if the high school buildings are large enough to handle the population boom when the students get older and reach those grades. Allen said yes, stating that there is move to shift departments as needed, such as moving the technology department at West to a centralized location elsewhere in the district as an example.

One piece of the booming enrollment has to do with new families moving into the community, and some of those families are coming from other countries. Included in the district demographic data was a look at the various ethnicities and languages represented in Mankato schools.

“It’s wonderful,” Allen said. “It’s very exciting.”

Almost 20 percent of the district is made up of non-white ethnicities. Of those 1,400 students, about 800 or 57 percent are black; about 330 or 24 percent are Hispanic; and about 230 or 16 percent are Asian.

Allen said 32 different languages are identified as primary languages for about 670 students in the district. Of the students enrolled in English Language Learners — which likely indicates those students new to the area — the majority (154 students) speak Somali. Total in the district, 295 students identify Somali as their primary language.

About 115 students speak Spanish as their primary language, with 43 of them enrolled in ELL.

Nuer (of south Sudan and western Ethiopia) also is a prominent language in the district, with 90 students identifying it as their primary language.

Other demographic trends include:

n a decrease in Post Secondary Enrollment Options program (high school students attending college for credits that also count toward their high school diploma). PSEO numbers have been in the 60s for the past three years and had been over 100 for seven consecutive years prior.

Cindy Amoroso, director of curriculum instruction, said all the reasons for the shift aren’t known. But the number in part is a reflection of the increase in challenging courses now being offered in high school. Advanced Placement classes can earn students college credit if they score high enough on the AP tests.

n an increase in the home-schooled population. In 2004-05, the district had 80 home-schooled students. In 2012-13, there are 177, a 121 percent increase.

Allen said there have been changes to how the home-schooled numbers are counted. The online Virtual Academy students are counted as home-schooled, for example, as are students who are partially home-schooled and also attend a Mankato school part-time.

“It’s not about more or less, it’s the way it’s being recorded at this point,” Allen said.

Also, students who attended a private school in the district boundary and are now identified as home-schooled are counted by Mankato Area Public Schools.

Amoroso said the district population has been steadily increasing, so the percentage of home-schooled students haven’t increased greatly when factoring in that growth.