Parents dispute board’s conclusion that overcrowding is not an issue

Jan. 25 school board meeting

The Brecksville-Broadview Heights Board of Education expects to develop a contingency plan to enable the district to handle potential overcrowding of classrooms if enrollment continues to climb.

The decision was made Jan. 25 after several parents addressed the board regarding a study unveiled in December that concluded enrollment is expected to hold steady in all three buildings for at least five years.

Parents contend the findings appear to be inaccurate because district enrollment spiked by more than 235 students last fall. The average class size at the new elementary school, which opened in September, is higher than projected when plans for the building were made public.

Parents also say that one kindergarten class has been relocated to a collaborative area of the elementary school to make room for additional preschool classes.

Superintendent Joelle Magyar said the number of students attending pre-K classes has increased in recent years, and the district is required by state law to provide services to students as young as 3 with learning disabilities.

“We’re also seeing a lot more autism than we have ever seen before,” Magyar said, noting that surrounding districts have experienced similar preschool growth. “At one time, we were able to call on [Independence or North Royalton] when we needed to find space for one of these students. But now no space is available anywhere, so we had to create an additional space here to [accommodate] them.”

It was suggested the district relocate its pre-K classes to a separate building, but Magyar said that probably would not alleviate the issues.

“They are very specific rooms and have to be a specific size and can only accommodate 16 students,” she said. “If we look at the numbers in the future and see [a similar increase], we might have to do something different.”

Magyar said the district intends to move the displaced kindergarten back to its regular classroom for the 2023-2024 school year, because preschool enrollment is not expected to be as high as this school year.

Parents said they question this conclusion, given that enrollment in each grade has climbed annually for at least five years. They said this voids the administration’s claim that the recent surge was caused by the opening of a state-of-the-art elementary school in a widely regarded school district.

Parent Raelyn Irwin said the fifth-grade class currently has 255 students after starting n kindergarten five years ago with 218 students. She said the same is true of all grade levels. Fourth grade enrollment has increased by 43 students; third grade by 26 students; second grade by 33; and first grade by 27 in the past year alone.

“That’s an average increase of over 33 students,” Irwin said. “All of these numbers come straight from the enrollment study that somehow concludes enrollment is going to decrease when all the numbers seem to point toward it increasing.”

Irwin told the board she believes the problem isn’t going to vanish any time soon.

“BBH is still a growing community. We still have new developments that are being built, including Valor Acres, which I think is planning for over 200 residential units,” she said. “This isn’t a one-time spike in kindergarten enrollment. The problem is we built a school that is too small to accommodate the community it is supposed to serve.”

Board members said they believe the enrollment predictions will prove accurate, but they want to alleviate the community’s concerns by preparing for the worst-case scenario.

“Our parents are asking us to be proactive,” said board member Tish Kwiatkowski. “Can we find a bullseye and come up with a plan for what should happen if we do end up reaching that target number? My concern is that acting reactively is a recipe for disaster.”

Board member Kathleen Mack agreed, saying she believes that having a formal plan in place is a good idea.

“We need to actively create a plan and have Dr. [David] Martin [the district’s director of curriculum and instruction] in there to help explain what is going on at the elementary level and see what his philosophy is,” she said, noting that the public will be encouraged to participate in those discussions. ∞