Schools Open, Development Expected To Follow As Student Populations Swell

Photo by Nicole Lunger
Muriel Williams Battle High School, Columbia's third high school, will open its first full school year in August. | Photo by Nicole Lunger

Public schools in Columbia, Springfield, Wentzville and Kansas City are being built or reopened to keep up with growing student populations, and in turn stimulating development in those areas.

Columbia, where the overall population has increased nearly 20 percent since 2000, opened Muriel Williams Battle High School this summer. The school’s first full year will commence in August.

“We have projected growth from 100-200 students per year for the next five years,” Christine King, president of the Columbia Board of Education, said.

Construction projects for school districts, such as Battle High School, don’t come directly out of their operational budgets.

“Our funding came from bonds we sell, just like in the financial market,” King said. “We sell bonds, and then we have to pay them back.”

The decision to build Battle High School, Columbia’s third high school, came in 2005, but the school’s building strategy wasn’t developed until 2007. Bonds totaling $180 million were issued to build the school in two phases, and construction began in July 2010.

A precedent of development

Photo by Nicole Lunger
Battle High School is anticipated to have an impact on northeast Columbia similar to the impact Rock Bridge High School had on the city's southeast side. | Photo by Nicole Lunger

Battle High School was built in the northeastern corner of the city, an undeveloped area with potential for both commercial and residential development. Battle is expected to have a long-term impact similar to that of Rock Bridge High School, according to Michelle Baumstark, community relations director of Columbia Public Schools. Rock Bridge, which was built in a rural area south of the city in 1973, is now surrounded by roads, retail businesses, office buildings, apartments and homes.

“I think the community probably has an assumption and expectation that the area around Battle High School will be developed,” Baumstark said. “And historically and economically, that has tended to happen. It happens over many years, but schools are an economic driver, and businesses and developments tend to follow school building projects.”

The area around the school has some roads and sewer and water capacity, but it needs more to allow for full development, said Thaddeus Yonke of Boone County Planning and Zoning. Nevertheless, two residential developments in the area, North Battleground and Somerset Village, are in the planning stage.

If the area is annexed into the city, Yonke said, “I expect it to go at a quicker pace than Rock Bridge. It’s situated that there will be other roads to connect to.”

Student populations swell

Norm Ridder | Photo courtesy of Springfield Public Schools
Norm Ridder | Photo courtesy of Springfield Public Schools

Another school district experiencing growth is Springfield, the state’s fastest growing metropolitan area, according to Springfield Superintendent Norm Ridder.

The second-largest district in Missouri is expecting an increase of at least 115 students each year for the next 10 years, Ridder said. Over the past two years, he said the district has seen “major increases in enrollment.”

The district recently passed a bond initiative to add a new elementary school, and it will double the size of another school in a growth area, Ridder said.

Wentzville, another growing district, is the fastest growing individual school district in the state. Prior to 1990, Wentzville had one elementary school, one middle school and one high school. Since then, the district has built eight elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools.

In 2008, Wentzville passed a bond issue leading to the construction of two elementary schools. In April of 2011, the community passed a 30-cent tax increase to fund the expansion of seven elementary schools and two middle schools and the construction of a third high school. That expansion also allowed the district to offer full-day kindergarten for the first time, according to district community relations assistant Mary Lapak.

Overall, the state as a whole has an education budget exceeding $5 billion, according to Ron Lankford, deputy commissioner of the Division of Financial and Administrative Services. Approximately $4 billion of that goes to K-12 education, with the remaining going to departments such as vocational rehabilitation and secondary education.

Shuttered schools reopen

Kansas City, the 11th-largest school district in Missouri, closed nearly half of its schools in 2010. There were two primary criteria in the decision. The schools with the lowest achievement were considered first. The other deciding factor dealt with facility issues, as certain schools are significantly more expensive to maintain, according to Airick West, the chair of Kansas City Public Schools.

Prior to the closings, money was being wasted because some buildings were operating at 50 percent occupancy, he said.

“Since three years ago, test scores have grown, graduation rates have improved and attendance rates have improved,” West said. “The district has maintained a balanced budget since then.”

The Kansas City district, after years of shrinking in overall size, grew last year and is expected to expand more this year. The district plans to reopen Woodland Elementary School for this school year, and Kansas City Public Schools is contemplating reopening three more schools the following year, West said.

Map of  all school districts in Missouri, arranged by size:

Every marker represents a district location, clicking on any of them will pop-up short description with district name, number of students, number of schools and student/teacher ratio.

Graphic by Roman Kolgushev

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