1.In light of all the new multi-family units planned for the community, how does/will the District assign new residential properties to school attendance areas?
District Policy/AR 206-1 “Assignment of Pupils” provides the superintendent the authority to assign new residential communities to attendance areas outside of or different than traditional enrollment boundaries. A new apartment building, for example, could be designated to one or more attendance areas based on available capacity at certain schools.
2.What are the projected/estimated financial costs of each strategy currently under consideration? Do these costs take into account temporary classrooms, transportation, staffing, etc.?
Cost estimates for each strategy under consideration have been shared as part of the District’s Needs Assessment report, available on the District website. All estimates are based on 2016 data and include any use of modular classrooms, site work and other construction-related expenses, however they do not include transportation and staffing costs. The following is a brief summary of the information included in the Needs Assessment regarding costs for each strategy:
- Elementary school “neighborhood stabilization” – Build on to existing elementary schools and maintain current feeder patterns. Projected costs: $30-35 million.
- (7th) 500-student elementary school – Build an additional elementary school at former St. Justin’s property. Projected costs: $46-50 million.
- (3rd) 5-8 middle school – Build an additional middle school for around 1,000 students and reconfigure grades at middle level to 5-8 and elementary level to K-4. Projected costs: $100-103 million.
- Conversion of BCMS and WVMS to 5-8 middle schools – Expand capacity at both middle schools and reconfigure grades at middle level to 5-8 and elementary level to K-4. Projected costs: $52-54 million.
- Redistricting of elementary schools with expanded capacity at some schools – Redistrict elementary attendance areas to shift students from schools with greatest capacity concerns and site restrictions, which currently includes Penn Wynne, to sites with greater capacity and site flexibility. Expand as necessary, which would likely require construction at five schools. Projected costs: $27-30 million.
- Expand middle schools – Expand middle school capacity at Bala Cynwyd and Welsh Valley and maintain current grade configurations. Projected costs: $17-19 million.*
- Kindergarten center – Build a new kindergarten center at former St. Justin’s property and shift kindergarten students from elementary schools to the new center. Projected costs: $19-21 million.*
- High school expansion – Build temporary or permanent classroom addition at Harriton High Projected costs: $2.3M - $7.4 million (based on 2013 estimates).
It is important to note that any plan moving forward must incorporate some combination of strategies that address capacity needs at each level. There is no “single” option that addresses all needs at once.
3.How does the District plan to fund classroom expansion projects? Would voter referendum be necessary to move forward with funding?
The District has $15M committed for future capital projects. The District could utilize a combination of these funds and borrowed funds (via a bond issue) to cover expenses related to construction/expansion. Once a strategy for addressing enrollment growth is determined, the District would work with financial advisors to develop an appropriate financial plan. Referendum may be required to obtain funding depending on the option/s identified by the District and its financial advisors.
4. What are some of the properties the District has explored for purchase for a new school? Has Woodmont been considered? Would LMSD consider eminent domain in acquiring property?
The District has been searching for available property for some time without success. There are few, if any, parcels that are ideally located and suitable for construction of a new school. If the District were to consider addressing growth by building an additional school, siting the facility would almost certainly require extensive and costly demolition and construction and/or extensive renovations on properties facing issues similar to existing LMSD sites. Real estate costs in Lower Merion are comparatively high, adding another deterrent to site acquisition.
The District has explored a number of properties in recent years, including St. Charles Seminary, Ashbridge Park, Kaiserman JCC and Islamic Center. For a variety of reasons, the District has had limited or no success to date with each of these properties. Currently, Woodmont is not for sale and there has been no indication that it would be available for purchase.
The District reserves its right to consider eminent domain to acquire property, though this has not been part of the current discussion regarding strategies for addressing enrollment growth.
5.Is the District considering purchase of the Foundation for Islamic Education (1860 Montgomery Ave., Villanova) for a new school? Does the mansion on the property need to be preserved as a historic site? Are there concerns about the slope of the parcel?
The Foundation for Islamic Education is one of a number of sites the District is exploring/has explored in recent months. The District has conducted a site visit at this location and is compiling cost estimates for site work, new school construction and historic preservation.
6.Could leased space or the Narberth School be other options worth exploring?
The Narberth school building and property are too small to justify renovations or new construction. Among other issues, the building is not ADA-accessible and does not meet current code requirements.
7.Could the District use the St. Justin’s property as a 5-6 center or some other configuration that would offset the need to/reduce the need to expand classroom capacity elsewhere?
A district-wide 5-6 center at any location would need to house roughly 1400 - 1500 students immediately and up to 1800 students eventually with projected enrollment growth. This is not a feasible option at the St. Justin’s property, which could potentially house a small elementary school (approximately 550 students).
8.What would the implications of a new school be on the District’s transportation operations? What transportation efficiencies are currently employed by the District to reduce travel time during morning and afternoon pick-up/drop-off?
An additional school/destination will require more buses. How many buses would depend on a variety of factors, including bell schedule, school location, number of students at the new school and level of the school (elementary, middle, etc.). If the new destination is in the western part of the District, the distances and time required to travel from many students’ neighborhoods to the new school will increase. If efforts were made to limit total travel time for bus routes, this may also increase the number of buses required.
Regarding current efficiencies: the District has taken the following steps over the past four years to help minimize fleet increases:
- Optimize/maximize the number of students assigned to each bus. The District has made every effort to balance bus loads as much as possible to avoid longer runs, but with increasing enrollment most buses are near capacity and ride times have increased slightly.
- Review and adjust bus stops and routes to minimize the distance for each bus run and continuously review runs and adjust when necessary.
- Utilize routing software and driver input to develop more effective and efficient routes that take into account logistics, traffic patterns, etc.
- Stagger arrivals at schools in order to avoid buses sitting idle and waiting in bus lines for drop-off. This practice shortens students' time on bus as they can be dropped off almost immediately upon arrival at school.
9.If new grade configurations at the elementary and middle schools (K-6, K-4, 5-8, 5-6, etc.) were necessary to accommodate growth, would the District maintain existing programs and team structure?
The District is committed to maintaining programs regardless of the possible changing grade configurations of our schools. One such commitment is the teaming structure at the middle schools (currently in grades 6-8), which the District would strive to preserve.
10.What impact will enrollment growth have on bus parking? Won’t you need additional space?
It is anticipated that additional bus parking will be necessary at some point in the near future. The District has very limited capacity to expand any of its current bus parking locations.
11.Does Lower Merion Township/the LMT Zoning Board consult with the school district when making planning decisions that could impact enrollment growth in the schools?
The LMSD Board of School Directors has convened an intergovernmental group with representatives of Narberth Borough and Lower Merion Township to foster greater dialogue among and between government representatives around important issues facing our community. District concerns about the impact of new development on enrollment growth have been shared during these discussions. Planning decisions made by Lower Merion Township will shape the District’s ability to move forward with any enrollment planning strategy. Consideration and support will be needed from Lower Merion Township and Narberth.
12.Would the District consider increasing class size as a strategy to address enrollment growth until enrollments stabilize? How effective would this strategy be in mitigating the costs of new construction and new staff?
Increasing class size is not seen as consistent with maintaining the quality of our instructional programs. This option could help mitigate new costs, but there would still be a need to significantly expand classroom capacity given the forecasted growth in our schools. Increasing class size has been discussed by the Board in the past and could be part of discussions moving forward, though it is not an option currently under consideration.
13.Can the District cap enrollment at its schools? Could a penalty fee be charged to families whose children wish to attend a school where enrollment is already at capacity?
No. By law, the District is obligated to educate all students who live in the District and cannot charge attendance fees.
14.Could the District implement a fee/tax for community members who send their children to public schools but do not own property in the community?
No. A renter’s tax/fee is not permitted by law.
15.If the District built a new school, wouldn’t it come on-line just as enrollment is stabilizing and decreasing? Wouldn’t that be a waste of resources?
Data indicates that enrollment with increase and then stabilize into the foreseeable future. There’s no data that indicates a major drop off in enrollment long-term. Whether the District builds a new school or not, there will still be a need to expand classroom capacity.
16.How will enrollment growth impact the District’s ability to provide appropriate facilities and services for students with special needs?
The District remains committed to serving the needs of all students with appropriate facilities, including those with special needs. Enrollment growth will not interfere with/detract from this commitment.
17.It appears that there may be capacity in some elementary schools to handle enrollment growth. Is this true? If so, couldn’t students be shifted across the district (redistricted) to occupy “open seats”?
In recent years, the District has introduced a “Partner School” plan (LMSD Administrative Regulation 206-4) that caps certain sections of grade levels in elementary schools that have reached optimal class size targets and requires students who register thereafter be enrolled at a “Partner School” – a Lower Merion elementary school that can accommodate further enrollment in that grade level. This has enabled the District to reduce costs and preserve classrooms at certain schools.
It is important to note that while a school may have appear to have additional “capacity,” there may be great variation from classroom to classroom and grade to grade each year. The third grade at one school might have eight open seats, for example, while the fourth grade might have one or two. If ten new fourth grade students register in the District, the school might need to add an additional section to accommodate fourth graders regardless of open space at other grade levels.
Regarding redistricting: it is difficult to shift individual students from school-to-school without knowing where these students may be moving to/arriving from. There is no clear pattern as to where enrollment growth is occurring in the District. Lines might need to shift from year-to-year to accommodate growth in different areas of the community, creating ongoing redistricting. Without clear boundaries, feeder patterns and enrollment areas and policies, the District would face a variety of new educational and transportation challenges.
18.Has the District explored partnerships or incentives with independent/parochial schools to help restore local private school attendance to historic levels? Would the District consider resource-sharing around areas of transportation, facilities, after school/summer programs with private schools to help reduce costs and find economies of scale?
The District recognizes the legacy and value of local private schools. Stable private school enrollment rates are important to District enrollment planning and allocation of resources. When private school enrollment drops (39% in 2004 vs. 32% in 2016), it heightens planning uncertainty and results in more students accessing public school resources. We do not believe it would be appropriate, however, for the District to directly advocate for strategies that may influence and/or incentivize a family’s decision on the school/s they choose for their children. The District’s responsibility is to educate all students that enter its doors. That is our mandate and commitment.
It should be noted that the District does already provide a variety of services for private schools, including nursing services, some food services and transportation to more than 136 school locations in the Delaware Valley. The District would be open to accessing private school facilities should needs arise, but this is not currently a strategy under consideration.