Growing pains already impacting new elementary school

By Melissa Martin

Sept. 28 school board meeting

District administrators say enrollment figures at the new Brecksville-Broadview Heights Elementary School have skyrocketed in recent months, drawing concern from both teachers and parents regarding expanding classroom sizes and increasing staffing shortages.

Superintendent Joelle Magyar told members of the school board Sept. 28 that since the district permanently closed the doors to Chippewa, Highland and Hilton elementary schools at the end of the 2021-2022 school year, the district’s elementary school enrollment has increased by more than 200 students – with additional students continuing to enroll every week.

“We’ve had another 35 students enroll since school started Sept. 6,” Magyar said, noting that 20 of the new students at the elementary school are Ukrainian refuges, many of whom have little to no English language skills.

While the district anticipated some growth as a result of the opening of the state-of-the-art school, Magyar explained that the increase the district is witnessing is anything but typical. While nearby districts in the greater Cleveland area, including Strongsville, have experienced similar spikes in enrollment upon the opening of new school buildings, Magyar says that like those districts, Brecksville-Broadview Heights believes the curve will begin to flatten again next year.

Despite the optimism, several members of the community questioned whether the district built the new elementary school too small to account for future growth in the community. Settlers Passage resident Keith McMillan, who has second- and sixth-grade students in the district, is one of those residents who questioned the board after watching classrooms at the elementary school, built for 25 students, rise to 27 and even 28 students less than a month after opening.

“You should fire whoever is giving you these projections,” he said. “Several times throughout the planning process, the community disagreed with these numbers.”

Magyar said that throughout the planning process, three different enrollment studies were conducted  – none of which anticipated the level of growth the district witnessed between June and September. As of September 26, Magyar said, the district had 3,744 students enrolled with over 1,700 students at the elementary school alone.

With additional students comes the need for additional teachers, likely two to three individuals to start, said Craig Yaniglos, district treasurer. He said the district will continue to monitor the numbers closely over the next few weeks to determine whether additional staffers will need to be hired and accounted for in next year’s budget.

“We’re going to have to play it by ear,” he said. “Right now, we’re in a healthy financial position, but at the same time, this is the year we will be barely positive as we start to deficit spend. … As we work to finalize the budget this year, we’re probably going to have to work right up to the [November] deadline this year to factor in the most relevant information we get.”

As far as classroom size is concerned, School Board President Mark Dosen said the new elementary school has plenty of space to create additional classrooms if needed.

“When we look at the broader picture, there is a significant amount of open space in the building that could be leveraged. … We have plenty of space to house additional students if we continue to experience this type of growth, but there may need to be some creativity if this growth starts exceeding all expectations,” he said.

Magyar agreed, noting the district retains the ability to relocate an entire grade level from one building to another should the need arise.

“Not that we’re planning for this, but as an example, we could move the fifth grade to the middle school if we have to,” she said. “We have that kind of capacity in the district.”

Though the district is experiencing growing pains now, Magyar said the concerns are being addressed.

“We have additional lockers coming in, as some students are sharing lockers now, and we have also placed another order for furniture,” she said. “We’re spending the money now because this is our current reality. We have 200 more students in the building than we anticipated. But at the same time, we want to be careful that we don’t continue to spend to accommodate a 200-student increase when in 10 years this building might not have as many students.”

Magyar assures both the board and the community that the building is properly sized to handle the district’s population.

“This building was designed to outlive all of us in this room and we have to keep that in mind,” she said. “The community as a whole is not trending for a larger population in terms of the schools at this time.”

Dosen agreed.

“This is a good discussion to have,” he said. “It’s just recognizing the fact that we’ve seen a healthy bump that causing some staffing challenges and we’re looking at it. If this trend continues, we’re still going to be fine as a district from a capacity standpoint.”