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Report: Student numbers to flatten as population rises

SPS to target inefficiencies in two of its schools

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As the city experiences population growth, signs point to a flattening of the student population in Springfield Public Schools over the next decade. Officials say school-level changes are being considered in response.

The current count of 24,132 students is expected to drop to 23,853 in 10 years’ time in a district where many school buildings are already underutilized, according to a 190-page demographic study presented to the SPS Board of Education on Nov. 28. For some buildings in the district, student increases are projected, while others are expected to see utilization rates plummet.

The projections were prepared by Davis Demographics, a division of Tampa, Florida-based MGT of America Consulting LLC. In a presentation to the board, Davis Demographics Senior Project Manager Lorne Woods described the report as a weather map of the student population, showing high- and low-density areas.

“We know there’s a lot of kids, but they’re not everywhere – they’re condensed in certain areas within the district,” he said.

At the request of the district’s Community Task Force on Facilities, the report looks at changes to two sites in particular: Pershing K-8 School and Robberson Community School, which serves K-5.

For Robberson in the city’s northeast, the study considers four options, two involving closures and two involving expansions. The first closure plan would divide students between Bowerman and Fremont elementaries, immediately upping Bowerman’s utilization rate to 98% from 75% and Fremont’s to 101% from 87%.

The second closure plan would assign all Robberson students to Boyd Elementary, increasing Boyd’s utilization rate to 83% from 46%.

The expansion plans would either move the school to the east to absorb 105 students from Fremont Elementary, increasing Robberson’s utilization to 74% from 43% and decreasing Fremont’s to 65% from 84%, or move it to the north to absorb some students from Truman, Watkins and Fremont elementaries, boosting Robberson’s utilization to 72% and reducing Fremont’s to 81% from 87%, Truman’s to 62% from 71% and Watkins’ to 76% from 87%.

For Pershing, the facilities task force has proposed changing the southeast Springfield building from a K-8 school to a middle school for sixth-eighth grades.

The study offers three options for removing elementary students from the school: Divide K-5 students between Field and Wilder elementaries; send all Pershing K-5 students to Pittman Elementary; or assign the entire Pershing area to Wilder Elementary for K-5, with parts of Wilder’s population being reassigned to Sequiota Elementary.

Superintendent Grenita Lathan told the board the next step was for members to have another discussion at its December meeting.

“We can’t get to that next step until we know if this is the true direction the board wants to continue to go down,” she said.

Other areas of concern
The demographic study is the district’s first since 2008, according to Travis Shaw, deputy superintendent of operations for SPS.

“It’s been well overdue, especially with a district of our size and just given the trends through enrollment,” he said in an interview.

Shaw said the study came about through conversations surrounding the work of the district’s Community Task Force on Facilities, which, in part, considered the boundaries of each school and how shifting them could increase schools’ efficiencies.

The report pointed to three contiguous central Springfield elementary schools – Boyd, Robberson and Weaver – that are all operating below 60% capacity and are projected to experience student population declines.

Boyd Elementary, which opened in 2021, is operating at 56% of its 400-student capacity in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, and projections put the population declining to 53% in 2028 and 52% in 2033.

Robberson Elementary, with a capacity of 343 in grades K-5, is at 49%, with a forecast usage of 37% in both 2028 and 2033.

Weaver Elementary, with a capacity of 373 in grades K-5, is at 52%, with projections of 47% in 2028 and 46% in 2033.

The report notes the resident student population in pre-K-5 is projected to increase over the next several years, but the district is experiencing the lowest middle school enrollment in four years. A boost to those numbers is anticipated over the next six years.

Decreasing trends in middle school enrollments will impact the high schools over the next several years.

Woods said declining birth rates are part of the issue. He used his own four-bedroom home in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex area as an example, noting he and his wife raised their children there and have continued to reside in their home now that the kids have moved out. His neighborhood of 100 houses used to have 70 school children, but now it has only five.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Springfield had a population of 170,067 as of mid-2022. The city has grown 11.5% since 2010, according to census figures.

The state’s Department of Health and Senior Services reported 2,819 more deaths than births in 2022, following the trend of three straight years. Live births in the state have declined 4% since 2019.

Data questioned
Board member Dr. Maryam Mohammadkhani questioned some of the findings in the demographic study, notably projections that would put Sequiota Elementary and Kickapoo High School under capacity by double digits. She pointed out that Springfield’s population is growing.

“Just keep in mind, if you hear the population is increasing, that’s fantastic,” Woods said. “It’s not the population you want to look at; it’s the relationship – the ratio.”

Mohammadkhani also said people’s perceptions of schools should factor into the study, and that improvement in schools can attract more students. Under SPS policy, students’ families can request transfers to other schools within the district.

Woods said the phenomenon of people moving to areas with high-performing schools is a generational one.

“That is a 10-year effect – it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said.

He explained that the study took under consideration developments that are planned and the numbers of students they are likely to include.

Woods added various factors can change the outlook, and he said the district should conduct a demographic study at least every five years.

Shaw said Davis Demographics was asked to look specifically at Robberson and Pershing, but it is also important to look at buildings that are in poor condition, with condition scores under 70 out of 100. That includes elementaries Bissett, Boyd, Bingham, Campbell, Delaware, Robberson, Rountree and Williams; K-8 school Pleasant View; and high schools Glendale and Hillcrest, according to the district website.

“If they had a condition score of less than 70 in 2016, what’s their condition score going to be in 2028?” Shaw said.

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