By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati Public Schools must scale back its $1 billion school construction plan by nearly eight percent because of steeper-than-anticipated declines in enrollment, school officials said Monday.
Instead of building and renovating schools to accommodate 42,165 students, the district will plan for 38,900 students by the project's end in 2012.
That means the district could build fewer schools or reduce the enrollment capacity for some of the 66 new and renovated schools planned. Board members have not yet discussed whether fewer or smaller schools would save taxpayers money.
The state, which is paying for about 20 percent of the project, and the district agreed on the new student capacity after analyzing enrollment trends and reviewing the first phase of the decade-long construction project.
Enrollment has dropped 13 percent since 1999, leaving the district with 38,800 students.
"We feel we need to react to the declining enrollment now," said Thomas Gunnell, chief operations officer for the district. "There's certainly going to be an impact in segments two, three and four."
Some of the enrollment loss stems from a declining birth rate in the city and heavy competition from charter schools, which are tuition-free, public schools operated by parents, community groups, for-profit companies or other agencies.
Preliminary changes for the building plan and school redistricting will be presented to the school board May 3, including revised enrollment projections for the 17 schools in the second phase of the four-phase project. Some of those schools could be built for fewer students.
Superintendent Alton Frailey said he directed his staff to talk to school communities where changes in school size are possible.
Frailey said he also plans to reissue his recommendation to delay building a new Porter school in the West End.
He first made that request during a meeting in February but withdrew it after hearing opposition from the board.
Architectural plans are complete for Porter and construction is scheduled to begin next month, but Frailey again told the board Monday that there's little demand for the new school, which is slated to house a math and science academy.
Board member Sally Warner, who chairs the facilities committee, said the new enrollment projections are appropriate for now, but the numbers could change again later in the project.
"We need to right-size the plan for the number of students we have," she said. "And we will continue to revise that number."
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