The Carroll school district is wrestling with overcrowding at several elementary schools as new neighborhoods bring more children than anticipated to Southlake. The affluent district will begin expanding three elementary schools this summer as part of the $208 million bond program approved by voters in May 2017.
Johnson Elementary School will have 11 new classrooms when the expansion is complete in fall 2019. Originally, the bond program called for six classrooms, but Carroll trustees voted April 16 to build five more to raise the school’s capacity to 750 students.
“The yield from [the residential development] Carillon is faster and higher than anticipated, and we want to stay ahead of the growth,” said Julie Thannum, assistant superintendent for board and community relations.
The master-planned Carillon project at Texas 114 and White Chapel Boulevard features a mix of zero-lot-line homes and larger estate homes. The scope of the project at Old Union Elementary School was also increased from eight classrooms to 10 by trustees. The expansion of Carroll Elementary School remained at six classrooms.
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The additional classrooms will be ready for the start of the 2019-20 school year. In the meantime, additional portable buildings will be needed at Johnson and Carroll, Thannum said.
John Haugen, Carroll bond program manager, said the portable buildings are a temporary situation and once the 2017 bond projects are complete they won’t be needed.
The district will look for efficiencies in other bond projects to keep the overall bond price below the $208 million authorized by voters, Thannum said. If overcrowding continues, the district could call another bond election in about five years, which could include a sixth elementary school, Thannum said.
No plans have been finalized, but one option would be to convert Durham Intermediate School back to an elementary school and move the intermediate school to a new campus next to Carroll Middle School near Gateway Church. The intermediate/middle school combination would be similar to the Eubanks Intermediate/Dawson Middle School pairing on Kimball Avenue.
The challenge will be funding the teachers and staff necessary for an additional campus when Carroll pays millions of dollars into Chapter 41 recapture, also known as Robin Hood. The district’s Robin Hood payment increased by $7 million to $26 million in 2018. Public school funding reform could become a top priority for next year’s legislative session, possibly changing how districts like Carroll are funded.
School overcrowding becomes a zoning matter
The issue of overcrowded schools comes up any time the City Council looks at plans for a new neighborhood. That was certainly the case on May 1 when the council approved the Metairie at Southlake, a 56-lot neighborhood proposed on 29 acres at White Chapel Boulevard and Dove Road.
In the end, the council approved the Metairie development 6-1 with Councilman Shahid Shafi voting no. He has said for weeks now that the density was too high, particularly for northern Southlake.
“I’m just extremely disappointed in the way the whole process has played out,” he said.
Kristy Bass, who has two sons attending Walnut Grove Elementary School, opposed the Metairie, saying overcrowding is already a problem at the school.
“I’ve seen it go over capacity. It’s upsetting. I hate to see that happen to our schools,” she said. “I’ve seen open spaces in the school enclosed to make additional classrooms. The data used to form the bond did not take into account such a high-density neighborhood on that site.”
Haugen said Walnut Grove was purposely designed with space that could be converted into three-and-a-half classrooms without adding on to the building.
The bond package also includes funding to expand Walnut Grove, which opened in 2011, with four more classrooms. That project will start in 2019 and is scheduled to be completed by the start of the 2020-21 school year.
Doug Harsey, who lives just north of the proposed neighborhood, said he’s concerned that Carroll may be forced to redraw elementary attendance zones in the future. “They’re going to have to do some heavy, heavy redistricting,” Harsey said.
Mayor Laura Hill acknowledged that the district faces funding challenges to open a new school. But redrawing attendance boundaries isn’t appealing either.
“I think that’s one of the most emotional times in the community,” Hill said. “Your child’s friends go to that school. You don’t want your child to move.”
Councilman Christopher Archer, who was part of the strategic planning committee for the bond before being elected to the council, said the district has planned ahead for these scenarios. He added that some property that was originally zoned residential has gone commercial.
A report published last year by Carroll’s demographer showed Johnson could have 752 students by the fall of 2020. The biggest growth for Walnut Grove comes from the future mixed-use Entrada project, which has more than 200 lots in the Carroll district. Demographic reports showed that school reaching 751 students by the fall of 2021 without the Metairie development.