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Friday July 31st, 2015 9:25AM

Gainesville schools cope with overcrowding

By B.J. Williams News Director
GAINESVILLE - The Gainesville City School System finds itself this year in a good news-bad news situation. The good news is more students than ever want to enroll in the Gainesville system; the bad news is administrators are having to juggle teachers to accommodate those extra students.

In fact, for the first time administrators said they had to put non-resident tuition students on a waiting list beginning in June.

At the regular meeting of the city school board this past week, School Superintendent Dr. Merrianne Dyer said that the system is working to accommodate about 700 more students this year than last. She said the overcrowding has occurred across the board, with the exception of Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy.

The most glaring example of overcrowding has happened at Gainesville Exploratory Academy on McEver Road. Dyer said 978 students are occupying a school that was built for roughly 700. While that problem will be alleviated with the future construction of a new elementary school on Mundy Mill Road, administrators have a very real problem to deal with today.

"Their kindergarten numbers are extremely high," said Dyer. "The six kindergarten classes began with about 33 in each class, so we have added another teacher there and may have to look at adding or shifting another."

She said the hiring of an additional kindergarten teacher will present a budget issue because that will require dipping into the school system's general fund. Dyer said the system used title funding from the federal government to make the first addition. Plus, she said, paraprofessionals would have to be hired for those kindergarten classes.

Dyer said the decision about making any new hires will be delayed until after Labor Day, noting that the system historically will experience what she called a "shift" in student population after that weekend each year.

"Before we impacted the general fund, we wanted to see what Labor Day brought us," said Dyer.

The Gainesville School Board did vote this past week to increase the millage rate in the coming fiscal year to 7.59, but that will not have any impact on current dollars available for hiring.

Despite the stress of dealing with the overcrowding situation,
Dyer said she prefers having to many students rather than too few.

"We're very pleased our students are staying with us and we're welcoming the new ones," said Dyer. "In these tough economic times, the most critical thing is to maintain your enrollment. When you start losing enrollment, your funding [state and federal] drops off and then you're not able to provide the services that you had before, so we are more thankful that we have a few extra students in a class than we would be if they were not here."
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