Olentangy’s student enrollment growth has continued over the last decade at a high and steady rate. We continue to project accurately and to plan well for enrollment growth, thanks in no small part to the work of our community — and expert-based facilities committee whose recommendations have saved us millions of dollars over the past two decades.
For the past six years, we have scheduled creatively and developed programs that we hoped would alleviate overcrowding in our high schools and thereby delay the need for additional space for our students. Now, however, we have exhausted all practical options, and the need cannot be delayed any longer.
All three of our high schools are well over design capacity. The hallways are packed with students, affecting travel time between all classes. Other common spaces like the cafeteria, gym, theater and restrooms are also overcrowded. We have run out of locker space, parking has become an issue and our class sizes have continued to increase at all grade levels. All of these factors impact the climate of the school.
Overcrowding is also causing an increase in class sizes at all levels. The increase in our teacher-to-student ratio is noticeable. Moreover, the growth is not slowing down but instead picking up. Take a drive around our district and see for yourself all of the new housing developments with hundreds of new homes being built. According to the facilities committee, this enrollment growth is not a short-term issue, with enrollment projected to be more than 6,600 at the high school level consistently for the next 40 years. Even more concerning is that of those 40 years, 15 years have a projected enrollment of more than 7,200 students at the high school level.
In order to keep pace with the growth, the district, school board and the facilities committee have been studying options for new, additional school space. After extensive research, the facilities committee submitted several options — with two that are the most viable to address the growth for the long term: An expansion to each of the current high schools or a fourth high school for the district.
Adding on to each high school will provide more classroom space, but it may not alleviate the overcrowding that exists in common areas like the cafeteria, gyms, theater and hallways. In addition, high school expansion does not create additional opportunities for students to participate in extracurricular activities and athletics. While this option may be less expensive to operate, it still does not solve all of our current challenges in providing consistent opportunities to our students.
A fourth high school may best address the high school overcrowding that we are experiencing, and enable us to provide the same academic and extracurricular opportunities we currently provide. These opportunities are what make us Olentangy. However, while these opportunities are valuable, all are at an additional cost.
Looking ahead, our school board must make a decision in the next few months if our Olentangy schools are to address the overcrowding that we are already seeing and will continue to see. This is an important discussion and time for our district.
I encourage you to stay informed. To aid with the discussion, we are launching a page specifically on this issue. You can access that right now from our home page at www.olentangy.k12.oh.us at the link titled “Olentangy: Plan to Address Overcrowding and Enrollment Growth.”
Thank you for your continued support of our students and schools. It is my honor to serve as Olentangy’s superintendent.
Mark T. Raiff is superintendent of Olentangy Local Schools.