School Overcrowding Prompts "Temporary" Fix: More Portable Classrooms

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RENO, NV - Time was Brown Elementary School in the south Truckee Meadows had one of the school district's smallest enrollments.

No more. It may now have the largest among elementary schools.

Next week nearly 900 students are expected here. That's why two modular units are being installed on what was playground space. They join three others put in last year.

Between them are ten new classrooms. The alternative would be some very crowded conditions inside.

"Two teachers in a classroom and 40-plus kids," says Brown's principal Angie Bryan. "And if you see how big the classrooms are," she adds gesturing at a relatively small room, "19 or 20 works much better."

Bryan is quick to say the portable classrooms are fully equipped educational environments. She says the kids learn just as well in them as they would elsewhere.

As for the times when they leave the classroom, she says staggered schedules will ease crowding inside and out during recess and lunch.

The modular units are self-contained with heating and air conditioning, rest rooms and locks that secure from the inside.

But no one pretends this is ideal.

There is a pair of reasons behind this problem.

This area of the valley is growing again, with more families moving in.
A multi-track schedule once helped take the pressure off, but the district has now put all its schools on a shared schedule and that's made matters worse.

"It looked like it would work," says Area Superintendent Chad Hicks, "but, lo and behold, people are moving in and the student numbers are going up and now it's obviously a problem."

And these temporary fixes quickly become permanent.

There are 180 portable classrooms throughout the district, some now 20 or 30 years old.

At McQueen High School, for instance, there are 14 and no room for more.

"Portables serve a great purpose; usually when a school starts reaching its capacity you bring in portable classrooms to meet that need until you are ready to build a new school," says the district's Chief Operating Officer Pete Etchart.

"Unfortunately because of our funding situation we haven't been able to build new schools. So, we're surviving on portable classrooms."

Until it finds the funding to build real brick and mortar schools, it's likely the district will continue to rely on this more affordable solution, in effect kicking the can further down the road.