Enrollment at Guttenberg’s lone grade school, the Anna L. Klein School, continues to be at the breaking point, with many classrooms at full capacity, holding 30 or more students in a single room.
“The classrooms are crowded,” admitted Dr. Richard Penna, the new superintendent of schools in the district, last week. “Several classes are very crowded.”
The district began the school year with an all-time high enrollment of 921 students, but has now leveled off at 910.
However, Penna will not look to portable trailers as a solution to the overcrowding dilemma.
“We’re trying to stay away from trailers,” Penna said. “They’re very costly. The money that you put into a trailer is non-refundable. It’s nothing more than a rental fee. Trailer rentals cost, on an estimate, $60,000 per year. Plus, you have to add the cleanup of a possible site, construction of sidewalks, building toilet facilities, digging up everything. You do all this work, set up a foundation, and at the end of the year, you have nothing to show for it.”
That’s why Penna has been looking to other options.
Penna seems to think he’s found a viable solution within the current boundaries of the school. He located an area, currently used for storage, that he believes can be converted into two classrooms, to be used by the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten grades.
“I feel very fortunate to be able to come across this area used for storage,” Penna said. “And I believe that we can take this area and turn it into permanent classroom space. When I looked at the area, it’s the first thing I thought of. There’s a safety factor involved, where the children will remain inside the school, instead of being taken out of the building and transported to another area where the trailers would be. If we can make this happen, it would be terrific for us.”
Penna said that the district will have to prepare an official proposal to the State Department of Education regarding the transformation of the storage area into classrooms. The extensive Educational Usage Plan will then be reviewed and upon inspection by a state representative, the district can then proceed with the plan.
“The whole procedure is time consuming,” Penna admitted. “It all depends upon the speed in which the State Department of Education gives its approval. And you have to go through the whole nine yards to get approval.”
It could take some time, considering that there are thousands of school improvement plans on tap throughout the state, especially after the $60 billion grants allocated to schools in special needs districts are designated for improvements to existing schools.
“I understand that they’re getting swamped with requests right now,” Penna said. “There could be a bit of a delay. But we’re going to do everything on our end to speed the process along.”
Penna said that if approval is received by the state, transformation of the area into classrooms could take only two months or so, which means that the overcrowding issue would be slightly alleviated before the end of the school year.
Penna said that he has already been meeting with prospective architects who are designing plans for the area.
“We want to move as quick as possible,” Penna said. “I’ve met with four architects and all four seem to believe that it’s doable. It makes the most common sense.”
Penna also believes that the transformation plan will eventually save the district money as well, because it would be a one-time cost and not an annual expense, such as rental of the trailers.
“I don’t know how much we would save, but I really believe it’s the best thing for the children of the district,” Penna said. “It’s all about the safety issue. The children are much safer inside the building than outside, in trailers. We hope that this plan works for us.”