What happens when the population of K-12 students grows faster than the government is able to build school buildings? Las Vegas is finding out the hard way:
But the economic rebound has exacerbated the city’s severe school overcrowding and left school administrators, lawmakers and parents scrambling.
This elementary school was built to serve a maximum of 780 students. Today it serves 1,230 — and enrollment is growing.
Forbuss Elementary is hardly alone. The crowding is so bad here in the Clark County School District that 24 schools will soon run on year-round schedules.
Forbuss already is. One of five sections is always on break to make room. Scores of other schools are on staggered schedules. More than 21,000 Clark County students are taking some online classes, in large part because of space strains. Nearly 700 kids in the district take all of their classes online.
“It’s pretty rough some days. I’m in a small portable with 33 students,” says Sarah Sunnasy. She teaches fifth grade at Bertha Ronzone Elementary School, a high-poverty school that is nearly 90 percent over capacity. “We tend to run into each other a lot. Trying to meet individual needs when you have that many kids with such a wide range of ability levels is hard. We do the best we can with what we have,” she says.
At Forbuss Elementary there are 16 trailer classrooms — the school prefers the term “portables” — parked in the outdoor recess area, eating away at playground space.
There’s also a “portable” bathroom and portable lunchroom. “It’s warmer in the big school,” a little girl tells me. “These get cold in winter.”
“You have to make do,” says Principal Shawn Paquette. “You get creative.”
“Our school is so overcrowded, that, you know, everybody’s gotta pitch in,” says school support staffer Ruby Crabtree. “We don’t have enough people.”
The Nevada legislature recently approved funding to build new schools and renovate old ones, but as NPR notes, the “handful of new schools won’t be finished for at least two years.” In that time, the Las Vegas school district is expected to experience 1 percent enrollment growth, or about 3,000 to 4,000 students, so the district will need “at least two more elementary schools every year.”