Growing pains hit Maize Schools

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Middle school students eat lunch in a crowded cafeteria at Maize Middle School on Tuesday, March 19, 2019.  The district says this school will be full next year at the current pace of growth. Middle school students eat lunch in a crowded cafeteria at Maize Middle School on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. The district says this school will be full next year at the current pace of growth.
Students at Maize Middle School get their lunches after a daily walk on Tuesday, March 19, 2019.  The last ones back in from the walk struggle to find a place to sit at the crowded tables. Students at Maize Middle School get their lunches after a daily walk on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. The last ones back in from the walk struggle to find a place to sit at the crowded tables.
Students crowd the hallway at Maize South Elementary on Tuesday, March 19, 2019, as they return to classes after lunch recess.  The district says it will need three more classrooms in this school next year. Students crowd the hallway at Maize South Elementary on Tuesday, March 19, 2019, as they return to classes after lunch recess. The district says it will need three more classrooms in this school next year.
Students at Maize South Elementary School learn the word "essential" in class Tuesday afternoon, March 19, 2019.  They discuss things that are essential at school, like teachers and classrooms, pencils and doing their homework. Students at Maize South Elementary School learn the word "essential" in class Tuesday afternoon, March 19, 2019. They discuss things that are essential at school, like teachers and classrooms, pencils and doing their homework.
MAIZE, Kan. (KAKE) -

"You can't drive up and down Maize Road for very long and not notice the district is growing," said Brandt Wilson, whose children attend the Maize Public Schools.

One Kansas school district is growing nearly twice as fast as expected, but expanding isn't as simple as asking parents for permission to build new schools.

The Maize School District just finished expanding its high schools and middle schools.  Now, the district is looking at another potential bond issue.  That puts it in a race with other districts under a new state law.

The Maize superintendent says they have no choice, the district will run out of room in at least one school next year.

"Essential means necessary," choruses a class at Maize South Elementary.  

"OK, turn to your buddy and whisper something that is essential for you to do everyday at school," says their teacher.

These elementary students are learning the meaning of the word essential this week.  That's something their district says it knows well.  Growing at nearly twice the predicted rate, with no slowdown in sight, Maize Schools are bursting at the seams.

"Our current growth shows us filling up one of our middle schools next year and our elementary schools in two years," said Superintendent Dr. Chad Higgins.  "We're certain we're going to need two school buildings."

A study conducted for the school board two years ago predicted growth of 140 new students a year.  Instead, they saw 213 new students last year, 240 and counting this year.  Higgins says they're adding about 10 students a month.   At Maize South Elementary School, next year alone, they say they're going to need three more classrooms.

"I  think the classroom sizes obviously are bigger, the hallways are a little bit more crowded, the staffing is harder to staff," said Brandt Wilson.  "You can't drive up and down Maize Road for very long and not notice the district is growing."

Parents like Brandt Wilson, active in their children's schools, have noticed the growth and are helping where they can.  Wilson is a member of a committee looking at options for the district.  They've met three times so far.

"We've weeded a lot of things out.  We haven't made any decisions yet," he said.

The committee, made up of parents, teachers, students, and architects, plans to come up with a proposal to give the school board by June.  They're trying to decide what that growth should look like, two new middle schools, or a middle school and an elementary school, or maybe even re-arranging its grade splits and setting up two intermediate schools for 5th and 6th graders, among others.

That decision making process usually takes a year or more but they're doing it in a matter of months.  Why?  The district says that in order to accommodate the new students flowing into the schools it's essential to have those new buildings in place by the fall of 2021.

"We will actually probably need them before that.  That's just as soon as we can get through the process," said Dr. Higgins.  It takes, minimum, several months to get a plan together, approved by the school board, the state board of education and, if it involves a bond issue, the voting public.  "Then, if that's approved, that building or those buildings, it takes at least 18 months or longer to construct before we can open them up."

A bond issue isn't the district's only option.  But, the district has to act like it is for now.  A new state law limits how  many bond issues the state board of education can approve in a year. 

"We're aware that there are going to be more requests for bonds than the state school board will be allowed to ask for.  So we're all, any schools that are growing, that need to pass a bond issue, that need new facilities, will all be basically racing to that July 1st deadline," Higgins said.

Meaning if  Maize goes that route they'll have to beat out other districts for the money.

"The criteria that's outlined by legislation indicates how long it's been since the school district has passed a bond issue.  Growth is one of the main criteria, certainly.  It's been first come, first served, at least from what we can tell.  We hope that's not the case," Higgins added.  "If we don't have new schools, we'll be potentially adding...portable classrooms that aren't as safe as we'd like them to be and certainly aren't fiscally responsible."