The question is whether Kirkwood’s community and children are best served by building a new elementary school and making various expansions and improvements to existing school and district facilities — a question now presented to the voters as Prop S. Having considered the issue over the course of my entire time on the board I came to support the administration’s recommendation for several reasons.
First, KSD has unquestionably grown over the past decade. Our schools were last expanded through a 2010 bond which resulted in new classrooms coming online in 2012. However, growth has continued and is projected to continue for the next five years — the longest period our demographer can project with reasonable accuracy. To get us to where we wanted to be after the 2010–12 construction, an additional 720 students must be accommodated if you assume that growth will completely stop after 2024. Adding the 25 classroom school and 19 other classrooms at existing schools, as the plan proposes, is the responsible way to accommodate such growth.
Second, several of our schools lag behind modern standards for student safety and accessibility. The proposed changes address many of these challenges, making our students and staff safer and creating more inclusive spaces. Alleviating overcrowding also enhances safety as school employees are able to build productive relationships with students and parents and more quickly identify threats — whether from within or outside the KSD family. The bond would support specific safety improvements at North Glendale, KHS and KECC.
Third, overcrowding at our schools jeopardizes student wellness and academic success. Our existing elementary schools are larger than recommended sizes for establishing personal connections with our students and maximizing student achievement. Our elementary school sizes also exceed those accepted in peer districts. Overcrowding currently prevents teachers from being able to prepare, to create respectful and appropriate spaces for one-on-one interactions, and to implement educational tools. In the next 24 months it will also require class size increases in violation of commitments we made when Prop K passed, against best practices, and despite district classrooms having a smaller footprint than comparable districts. Without building a new school, there is no fiscally responsible solution for alleviating existing overcrowding in shared spaces, such as cafeterias, or “specials” such as PE, art and music, requiring students forfeit recommended hours of each.
Fourth, this bond is the most fair approach for Kirkwood property owners. It allows for the continued and future success of our schools, a critical long-term value for our community. It reduces the current tax burden now, and does so in a responsible way that deploys capital when it is needed and finances it at attractive interest rates (currently 1.65%). If passed, our debt service levy will be among the lowest in St. Louis County. It also keeps our Prop K commitments: (1) to not seek an operational tax increase for at least five years; and (2) to protect our class size and educational quality. Finally, while passing the bond will lead to increased operational costs, much of those costs are from the hiring of teachers — positions that are more dependent on student growth, irrespective of building construction.
Moreover, it prevents future growth from requiring a new school 5–10 years from now, after even more sacrifices have been made. The overall trend for over a decade has been persistent increases each and every year in KSD resident enrollment, persistent (though small) increases in Kirkwood’s total population, and a trend of increasing “capture” of live births into our school system — that is, more families are moving in after their children are born and fewer children are leaving Kirkwood or choosing to be educated outside of KSD. Each of these facts has occurred even as nationally (and in Missouri) birth rates have been declining over the same period. These factors suggest that enrollment after 2025 will continue to grow, even if the rate of growth is more modest than we have seen.
Fifth, it protects and advances equity and diversity in our District. Without enhancing capacity, we would almost certainly need to end the practice of allowing the children of non-resident teachers and staff from attending KSD, a move which would make it harder to recruit high quality teachers in general and high quality teachers of color in particular. By expanding access to before and after school care, it addresses a current need of working parents. By constructing a modern building and improving other aged buildings, it improves accessibility. By reducing the number of students per building, it allows teachers and administrators to better tailor instruction for all students.
This is not a decision we should delay. Our students are currently suffering from overcrowding at several of our schools. Most of the enrollment growth comes in the next two years, meaning there is no way to accommodate students in 2022 unless capacity increases are approved now. Finally, available bond rates are favorable at this time, allowing the community a bigger bang for its buck. There is no guarantee these rates will be available to us in the future.
 The additional construction approved in 2010 was enough to accommodate 455 students. Since then, we have grown by 756 students and are projected to add 419 by 2024. Thus, assuming growth ends in 2024 we will still have grown by 720 more students than were provided for in 2010.