The 2019-20 report, conducted by Templeton Demographics, does not include forecasts for pre-K enrollment; however, it can give the district an idea of which campuses have room for those students, according to Superintendent Jeannie Stone.
"We use these numbers to see, absent of the pre-K figures, ‘Where do we have space?’” Stone said at a Jan. 22 board of trustees meeting.
This information is key as district officials continue to iron out details of RISD’s pre-K program, including when to open it up to all 3- and 4-year-olds and whether to offer busing.
RISD serves 1,340 pre-K students at 21 campuses that offer half- or full-day seats. To meet the requirements of House Bill 3, a state mandate that says all public school districts in Texas must provide free, full-day pre-K to students who meet certain linguistic or economic benchmarks, four additional elementary campuses will offer pre-K next school year. Those campuses are Bowie, Canyon Creek, Dartmouth and White Rock elementaries.
RISD piloted a full-day pre-K program at two elementary campuses a year in advance of the signing of HB 3 in June 2019. A partial rollout of the full-day program launched in fall 2019, according to Deputy Superintendent Tabitha Branum.
District officials say they will finalize the transition to full-day programming by fall of this year. At that point, RISD will serve an estimated 1,840 students, 37% more than are currently enrolled. Branum said this expansion should be enough to serve all eligible pre-K students living in the district.
Growth in the program
The 2019-20 demographer report shows that over the next 10 years, RISD enrollment is expected to grow by nearly 4%, to 41,116 students. However, that estimate does not include growth at the pre-K level.
There is not an accurate algorithm that can be used to forecast those numbers because parents are not legally obligated to enroll their children in pre-K, said Sandra Hayes, RISD assistant superintendent of district operations.
“They can follow birth rates to know that in five years, you are going to have this many kids [in kindergarten], but you can’t do that for 4- and 3-year-olds because there is no requirement,” she said.
Six of the 40 elementary schools in RISD are expected to go above 90% capacity or exceed 100% capacity within the next 10 years, according to the report. Those campuses are Brentfield, Jess Harben, Merriman Park, Mohawk, O. Henry and Prestonwood elementary schools.
Jess Harben and O. Henry both offer pre-K and will continue to do so in the coming school year, according to RISD Executive Director of Communications Tim Clark.
Pre-K program additions made in the 2020-21 school year are projected to max out capacity at all of RISD’s elementary schools, according to Branum.
“We do believe we have maximized any current capacity that exists in our current elementary settings,” Branum said at the Jan. 22 meeting.
The district had originally planned to request a waiver from the state to delay implementation of full-day pre-K until school year 2021-22; however, due to the added seats coming in the fall, the district will no longer need to pursue that option, Branum said.
The state mandate is not the only reason the district has chosen to accelerate expansion of its pre-K program, Clark said.
“Pre-K is good for kids academically; it’s good for kids socially and emotionally,” he said. “We want to offer that to our community sooner than later if we can, and we are happy to be able to do that sooner.”
The district intends to eventually offer pre-K to all students, regardless of income or language requirements. But for now, the district’s focus remains on accommodating all qualifying students, Branum said.
The district has also begun looking into the possibility of providing transportation for pre-K students.
Parents unable to drive their student to school often choose not to pursue pre-K for their children, according to Stone.
“Transportation is the barrier that keeps kids from being able to have access to our services,” she said at the Jan. 22 meeting.
Rather than providing home-to-school transportation, the district would move to offer a pickup service that transports students from their zoned elementary school to their assigned pre-K campus, Branum said.
Adding transportation for pre-K students would have major budget implications. The district would need an additional 10 buses and drivers as well as 10 bus monitors to supervise the students, Branum said. The buses alone would cost $1 million, while estimated salaries for staff would cost the district $330,497 annually.
A final decision on whether to offer pre-K transportation will be made once the board approves its school year 2020-21 budget in June.
Future of the program
In order to reach the district’s goal of offering universal pre-K, Branum said the district will need to add more space to its elementary campuses. Campus renovation projects could be included in the next bond, which is tentatively scheduled for 2021, according to Branum.
The board is expected to begin bond planning this summer. Teams made up of faculty, staff and students have already begun sharing research and making recommendations to the board on facility needs, Clark said.
The district owns two lots large enough to build schools: one located off Abrams Road near I-635 and the other at Greenville Avenue and Walnut Street. Both of these lots are located in highly dense, highly populated areas; however, there are no plans to use them as of yet, said Hayes, the assistant superintendent.
Instead, the district will look at expanding current schools, she said.
“Our buildings that were built in the ‘50s and ‘60s—they have hit their max,” she said at the Jan. 22 meeting.
The district has a few more years to figure out how to make space for future pre-K students. According to Branum, this upcoming expansion should be enough to accommodate qualifying children until school year 2022-23.