MIDDLETON — When students enter Mill Creek Elementary this fall, there’s no guarantee they’ll end up in a classroom.
According to an April demographic survey conducted by the district, the school is 123% full. Overcrowding caused by the local population growth prompted administrators to use any available space to accommodate students.
This academic year, Mill Creek Dining Hall, staff lounge, hallways, music room, conference room, computer lab and individual offices will be used as instructional spaces.
The county is hoping voters will fix the problem by approving $59,435,000 school bond on Aug. 30 to build a new elementary school, but similar efforts failed in past elections because voters equated higher taxes with the need to build new schools.
But time may be running out, said Middleton Superintendent Mark Gee, who worries that short-term solutions will ultimately not be enough.
Overcrowding is nothing new, but the school is reaching its limits
Mill Creek’s administration has converted all open spaces into learning space over time, said Principal Jessica Holman. This is not a new practice.
But this year, Holman added a music room and library to the long list of extracurricular spaces used for instruction. When Gee asked the principal which room was not being used by students, she said, “Nothing.”
“(The music teacher) will either push classes or co-teach with PE, depending on what we can do,” Holman said. “Our librarian will go to the teachers and select the books, and that way the students will check out their books. They’ll get an interest in the class, and then she’ll be pulling the books, putting them on the cart, rolling them, and that’s how they’re going to check them out.”
The library will serve as a 5th grade classroom and an art classroom at the same time. The music room has been converted into classrooms for 26 students. The computer room was also converted into a classroom.
The staff conference room, located behind the front office, is regularly used for student testing. The teacher lounge is used for intervention, testing and gifted and talented programs. Teachers may have lunch from 11:20 a.m. to 12:40 p.m.
Fifth grade advisory groups and focus groups meet in the cafeteria in the morning and afternoon. Holman says leaders are considering using the gym for book fairs and conferences, as well as music and physical education classes. Even corridors are used for intervention.
The school is also using two portable classrooms and expects two more to arrive in November after the supply chain ran into a problem with a delayed delivery. But even with the extra square footage, Holman says the school isn’t gaining any ground.
“We don’t really get a seat,” she said. “We’ll still be instructing in the lounge, we’ll still be instructing in the cafeteria, in the computer lab, in the other half of the library.”
Growth is impacting the area and is not expected to slow down anytime soon
Middleton’s last elementary school, Purple Sage, opened in 2003. Since then, the district has enrolled 514 elementary students last school year, for a total of 1,638.
Middleton doesn’t expect growth to slow down.
In 2021, the district contracted Davis Demographics to analyze Middleton’s demographic data in preparation for future plans. The Davis study it is assumed that by the fall of 2028, 250 more elementary school students will enter the district, which is 15.5% more than in 2022.
The growth isn’t just affecting Mill Creek. The second of three Middleton Heights elementary schools was 127% full last spring, according to the study. Heights uses two portables but cannot fit more on the property.
Heights Principal Nicole Christensen says staff have come up with creative solutions, including using stairwells as intervention spaces.
Purple Sage, a third elementary school, doesn’t have the option, but the superintendent says it’s a deliberate decision. In the district, it is necessary to maintain the capacity of classes small because the school is used for additional special education programs.
Middleton’s middle and high schools are 80-85% full, and alternative schools are 91% full.
The district will post the bonds this fall
Middleton residents will see the bond ordinance on the Aug. 30 ballot. The measure would go toward building a new 700-student elementary school to absorb growth in both Mill Creek and the Heights. The school will be built on land already owned by the district and is located between two elementary schools.
The bonds will also go towards building a new vocational training center and renovating the Heights, which was built in 1987 and needs a new roof and upgrades to meet ADA requirements. The school will not get additional space through this measure.
In 2015, similar bonds failed once, in 2018 – three times.
The new bond would be tied to Middleton’s existing high school bond payments. It includes a projected tax rate of $155 per $100,000 of taxable property, up from $225 per $100,000 in 2022. The bond will not increase the current rate for Middleton residents, but will extend the length of time residents are paid by about 20 years.
The district projects that individual payments will decrease over time with continued growth. As families move to Middleton, there will be more taxpayers sharing the burden, which could reduce payments for everyone.
Gee says the county understands why families might not want to make the commitment, especially in light of high property values and gas prices. But he worries that waiting will only lead to higher costs down the road. If the bond fails, the district will purchase two portables for a total of $500,000. The county currently leases the portables for $42,000 per year per unit.
The district is focused on communicating communications to voters. An informational meeting will be held on August 10 at 6 pm in Mill Creek. Middleton residents can also invite district staff to speak at “cottage meetings” in their own homes, clubs or other small meeting places.
Idaho law requires a two-thirds supermajority vote to pass a bond issue.
You may also be interested