School Overcrowding Once Again Is the Main Topic at School Committee Meeting

The issue of overcrowding at all the city’s public schools once again had School Committee members looking for more information at Monday’s night meeting of the Everett School Committee.

“Class size is closer to 32-35 students per classroom, as opposed to the 28 pupils that classrooms have been designed to accommodate,” School Superintendent William Hart told the committee.

The issue of overcrowding in the local schools has been a problem for the past several years  with no easy solution in sight.  As of today,  the newest school building, Everett High School, which was designed to hold 1,800 students, is now housing almost 2,200 students.  Many students for special programs are being taught in converted storage closets or reconfigured spaces such as the old print shop at Everett High. The new library at Everett High has been adapted to accommodate some of the one-on-one tutoring that is needed by students. 

The problem is not any better in the lower schools for grades K-8, where total overcrowding among the city’s schools is estimated to be between 400-600 students.  All officials agree that the overcrowding and lack of physical classroom space is disruptive to the learning experience for students.

Hart pointed out to the School Committee members that at present, some students have their lunch break starting at 10:20 in the morning, with other students starting lunch at 1:20 p.m.

The use of additional modular classrooms has been discussed by previous school committees and was tentatively explored for use at the Keverian School on Nichols Street. Presently, there are modular classrooms at the Webster School that have been in use for more than 20 years.

However, committee member Robin Babcock noted, “People are not comfortable with modulars.” She said there would be a loss of school yards and street parking if modulars are put into place, since these spaces would be taken up by teachers’ parking.

Committee member Samantha Hurley noted that grades 7-8 alone need space for about 50 classrooms that would accommodate about 1,000 students. Almost three years ago, there was a move to reuse the old Pope John XXIII High School site on the Everett/Malden line on Broadway.  While it was agreed that turning the Pope John campus into a 7th and 8th middle school would relieve the overcrowding at all of the elementary schools and give flexibility to continue to absorb the continuing increase of new students in these grades, the measure would do nothing about the overcrowding at the high school, a problem that will only continue to increase.

In addition, the city’s taxpayers would have to absorb the entire cost of the estimated $150 million renovation of the structure and it could take up to five years to complete. By contrast, the construction of any new school in the city will be eligible for 70% reimbursement by the state.

Both Mayor Carlo DeMaria and Hart are exploring the present inventory of city buildings that could be adapted for classroom space.

Hart noted  that going outside of city-owned properties for rental space could be problematic, as a long-term lease for more than three years would be required and would need approval from  the City Council.

“A new school is in the future to solve the problem, but would not solve the problem now,” Hart said.

Presently, DeMaria has submitted plans for a new high school to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) that would include vocational training classrooms and shop areas for students.  A state official is expected to advise about the next step in the MSBA process for the new high school starting July 1. The entire process to get to doors opening could be another eight years.

In the meantime, Hart and members of the city departments and school committee will continue to look at options at existing city structures, as well as some possible rentable space.

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