Elbow room: School officials deal with overcrowding

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More than 25,000 students enrolled in Shelby County Schools this year have forced school officials to add more teachers and portable classrooms.

The system welcomed 300 new teachers to county schools a week ago, with many of those instructors being placed in one of the 160-plus portable classrooms being used this year.

Assistant superintendent of operations Tom Ferguson told school board members on Aug. 3 that they would likely have to add more classrooms as the year progresses.

&8220;We&8217;re going to begin with 171 trailers that we have now,&8221; Ferguson said. &8220;But we will likely have to add around three to four more after the schools have been open and we can get a more exact head count.&8221;

As the fastest growing county in the state, Shelby County has seen an increase of nearly 500 students since last year alone.

Ferguson said, however, that this year&8217;s amount of portable classrooms is not the most he&8217;s ever seen.

The school system had more than 180 in 1997 Ferguson said, and came close to eliminating all portable classrooms in 2000 before a tax referendum that would have given more money to capital projects for schools failed to pass.

Ferguson said Thompson Middle School will probably see the most overcrowding this year, with school already having 19 to 20 portables on campus.

&8220;We&8217;re seeing significant space problems at a number of our schools this year,&8221; Ferguson said. &8220;And I firmly believe that a lot of the crowding stems from the fact that a number of our schools have reached their saturation point.&8221;

In addition to adding new portables, Ferguson said the system is having to look into adding sidewalks and awnings to protect students from inclement weather.

&8220;Just the fact that children are not in the regular flow of the inside of a school building is a concern,&8221; he said. &8220;We want to avoid children having to go outside to get to classrooms as much as possible.&8221;

While some schools are able to handle overcrowding better than others, Ferguson said, there are a lot of facilities that are coming close to being unable to support any more students.

&8220;With growth the way it is in our county, we&8217;re at a point where overcrowding is unavoidable,&8221; Ferguson said