What do school districts do with too many students?

If a school district gets students faster than it can expand its facilities (I assume if there is a jump in the number of families moving into that district or something like that) what does it do? Does this happen often?

It happens often in California, where I had 30+ students in all my classes all through school. Since you can’t buy land and build fast enough, you usually get “relocatable classrooms” (trailers) and overburdened teachers with monster class sizes.

Portables. Some of the schools near me have insane numbers of portables on the grounds - it’s like a refugee camp up in there.

Yup, trailers. I wonder what it’s like in there in the winter? It can’t be very ‘school’-like.

It happened all the time during the baby boom years and the methods of dealing with it haven’t changed at all.

  1. More kids in each class

  2. Portables

  3. Split sessions and/or year-round sessions

Yes, yes & yes.

In my county, we have all three. My son’s 1st grade class has 29 kids in it. A lot of the schools have portables. Our county has made some schools year-round, with four “tracks” each. Three of the tracks are in school at any given time, with vacations staggered so that a whole group of kids is “tracked out” at any given time during the year.

This can also lead to other problems like cutting lunch down very short to fit all the students in somewhere around noon. Last week’s Chicago Tribune had a front page article on overcrowding in schools in Chicago, including one school where kids had to eat in shifts, only 17 minutes to go get your food, sit in your assigned seat (to avoid delays while kids try to figure out who they want to sit next to), and gobble down as much food as you can before you have to throw out your trash and half-eaten lunch, and run to your classroom.

As a substitute teacher, I can tell you portables suck big time. They’re terrible acoustically, so every whisper is booming loud, let alone class discussions or free time. The heat and AC never seem to work right. Usually, first year teachers get stuck in a portable with freshmen all day (since older teachers can usually pick the classes they want to teach, and the room they want to teach in), and then the school system wonders why they quit to work in the private sector.

In elementary through high school, I attended a year-round school calendar, and one year had split shifts.

Later, I was a school board member in a district where we built as fast as humanly possible to deal with rapid growth, and we had three schools with portables set up.

Now, I’m an administrator in a district that was one of the fastest growing in the country until the house market fell like like a limp balloon. But as soon as it comes back, we’ll be in double digit growth again. Our board is listening to every option, but has steadfastly stated they will NOT have portables anywhere. Aside from that, who knows?

I learned to enjoy the year round school, if anyone cares. Four ‘tracks’ were divided, generally by neighborhoods, and attended 45 days on, 15 off. We had two week summer, Easter and Christmas breaks - the track I was on almost always had our 15 days off land right square in one of those, so I usually had 5 week breaks. To this day, when I see people I went to high school with, I can tell you what track they were on.

The classes get larger and larger until there are too many desks for the teacher to actually walk around the room. Someone finally decides to hold a referendum and the community votes to build a new school barely big enough to cover current needs. Repeat ever few years. (from a community that doubled in size in 10 years and built a new high school that was less than 25 students over the current enrollment ) While all the people who don’t have children refuse to believe we need new schools and say the teachers are whiny and overpaid. Someone else will spread a “fact” that class size is small using the employee/ student ratio instead of the class size. Yeah it’s fun and in two years our son will be done and we can move.

Another option besides trailers is modular units. They are bigger than trailers and can hold 6 to 8 classes rather than 1.

My Jr. High used quite a few portables while I was there. There was heat, but no AC, so they were most comfortable in the winter. The real problem was the floors sounded hollow, so foot steps or kids tapping their feet turned into a drum roll.

These are what I meant when I said portable. They’re set up essentially as small buildings, with their own power, water tie-ins, and from what the teachers I spoke to had to say - not all that bad to be in.

My son’s first year in elementary was done on a year-round schedule, enough students in the summer to lighten the load the rest of the year as terms off were staggered. Everyone hated it, especially if they had two children on different staggered terms.

Fifteen of the twenty years that I taught, I didn’t have air conditioning. August and September in the South can be sticky with humidity and heat. If the teacher brought an air conditioner, then it became the property of the school. If we got moved to another room, we had to leave the air conditioner behind.

I had great big floor fans for a while. I bought a couple of them. But both of them were stolen. Then I had a little floor fan, but a repair man used it as a step stool and ruined it. So I bought a little desk fan small enough to lock up in a big choset/chest that I had. Then I got the heaviest chain that I could find and wrapped it around the closet and padlocked it. I did the same thing with the drawers in my desk. I wrapped that chain around the desk and through the drawer handles. That left only the middle shallow drawer vulnerable. So I made up a voodoo type curse and wrote it out on a notecard in big letters and put it in that drawer. Nobody bothered my pens or pencils again.

One year I was beaten by someone in a group of kids who were trespassing and I was in the hospital for a few days. This was back in 1970 when that sort of thing made the newspapers. Our school was already way overcrowded and for some reason, the Board of Education decided that that had contributed to the problem. So they put us on split session. Senior High from around 7:00 a.m. until Noon and Junior HIgh from Noon until five o’clock or something like that. The teachers stayed later or came earlier and overlapped by an hour. And the classes were shortened. The next year the school was closed as a Senior High.

Q What do school districts do with too many students?
A Soylent Green in the cafeteria!

My high school was one of the top public schools at the time, so naturally half the school was made of demountables (that’s portables, for you North Americans). We had a cluster up at the front of the school, a cluster in the back, and a cluster around the side, though I think they’ve expanded the building since then and possibly taken down some of the demountables.

The roof collapsed in three separate sections while I was there and a falling AC unit nearly killed the math head of department. I think we viewed the terrible condition of the buildings as a source of pride.