Local News

Portables classrooms remain a fixture on many campuses

SEBRING - The Highlands County School District will have around 850 students in portable classrooms this year - and next year and for the foreseeable future despite the classroom building boom a few years ago. The district's five-year work plan shows students in portables in 11 of the district's 17 schools. The schools with the forecasted largest number of students in portables this year are Lake Placid Elementary (147), Park Elementary (140) and Sebring High (125). School enrollment peaks during the winter in Highlands County. Lake Country Elementary Principal Karla Ball said she has three classes in portables - one kindergarten, one first-grade and one second-grade class.
The school's first-day enrollment on Monday of 567 was an increase of 30 students over last year's first day of school. Lake County Elementary's campus has limited space for portable classrooms. Ball said she has no more classrooms to accommodate enrollment growth during the year. "If our class size goes over 18 in our primary grades and 22 in the intermediate we would be looking at possible CTA's certified teaching assistants because we don't have any additional room for classes," she said. Classrooms with a teacher and a teaching assistant can exceed the state class size caps. Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Mike Averyt confirmed what the district's five year work plan shows, he said, "there are no new construction projects in the next five years. If we grow now in the next couple of years we will be having to add portables." The district is no longer leasing any portables, but owns 65 portables, Averyt noted. Some are used for storage and some are used for classrooms. "If we start growing with students and start having to add portables eventually we will be back where we were in 2006 with 200 portables on our property again," he said. Statewide school districts are having challenges with their capital funds, which are used for new classroom construction, Averyt said. "I went to the finance council last month and that was the concern of every district in the state" since the state took away the .5 mill building/capital property tax levy and moved it to the general fund, he said. School Board Chairman Andy Tuck also noted that the half mill was taken way from districts. "There won't be anymore building done so if we need to increase capacity it will have to be through portables, but I think we are in good shape for the most part," he said. "We've always had a portable here and there." According to the five-year work plan, the six schools with no classes in portables are: the Kindergarten Learning Center, Fred Wild and Memorial Elementary schools, Avon Park and Hill-Gustat middle schools, and Avon Park High School. The number of portable classrooms in the district peaked at about 200 in the 2006-07 school year. Woodlawn Elementary's campus had 16 portables that year, while many other schools had 10 or more. The school and classroom construction boom eliminated the need for most of the portables. Enrollment started to decline in the 2007-08 school year and continued to slip to the point where in 2011-12 some schools had empty classrooms. But then student enrollment started to increase again in the 2012-13 school year. mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826