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Schools fitting more students in regular classrooms than mobile ones

By Sarah Campbell
scampbell@salisburypost.com
The Rowan-Salisbury School System is using 11 fewer mobile units as regular classrooms than it was four years ago.
“As our numbers have gone down a little bit, we’ve been able to find space back in the classrooms, which is a good thing,” said Gene Miller, assistant superintendent of operations.
Enrollment has dropped by more than 600 students since the 2008-09 academic year, falling from 20,490 to 19,867.
Mobile units are being used for regular classroom instruction at 10 of the district’s 35 schools, including Koontz, Faith, Knollwood, Morgan and Rockwell elementary schools; Southeast Middle; and East, South, West and Henderson high schools.
China Grove, Erwin, Knox and West Rowan middle schools as well as Enochville Elementary are no longer using the mobile units as regular classrooms, but they were four years ago.
A total of 118 mobile units are being used district-wide. Miller said that’s “exactly the same number as four years ago,” but the type of use varies.
Twenty-three of those house special programs such as speech therapy and academically and intellectually gifted classes. Twenty provide storage space. Exceptional children programs are based out of 17. Art and music teachers are anchored in 18. Eleven are being used for conference or guidance space.
Woodleaf Elementary is the only school using a mobile unit as a computer lab.
Enochville and East have the most mobile units at 10 each. East uses five of those for regular classroom instruction, while all of Enochville’s are being used for other purposes.
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School board member Linda Freeze said it gives her “heartburn” to see a new school like Koontz Elementary using four mobiles, two for classroom instruction and two for guidance conferencing.
“It still bothers me that this happened,” she said.
Miller said Koontz was originally designed with another wing that contained six classrooms and a set of bathrooms, but that was nixed from the final plans due to cost.
The mobile units are owned by the district so the only cost is for upkeep.
“Mobile units are the only solution we have” as opposed to constructing a new building, Miller said. “We keep the mobiles in as good a shape as possible, making sure they are maintained and get repairs as soon as they are needed.”
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School board member Kay Wright Norman said mobile units aren’t the district’s first choice, but they are a viable option.
“If cost was not an issue, we would have plenty of space,” she said. “But it is, so the reality is what do you do next? And the next best thing is to use what we have and we already have mobile units.”
Norman said the district has found many “appropriate uses” for the units.
“If all of them were being used for regular classrooms, I would say it’s time for us to do something to build new classrooms, but we don’t have the numbers to support that,” she said.
School board member Mike Caskey said he’s glad the mobile units are just that, mobile.
“I think it’s good to have some mobility there in case you have to move people around,” he said. “I think everybody would prefer to have the kids in a normal brick-and-mortar building, but you have to work within your financial constraints.”
Caskey said he was surprised that the number of mobile units being used as regular classrooms wasn’t higher.
“When they are out at the schools, people think they are being used as classrooms, but I guess they are good for storage and other programs too,” he said.
School board member Bryce Beard said the mobile units are “not bad” as an alternative.
“They don’t affect the teaching quality,” he said.
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Miller said although mobile units might not be the preferred choice, teachers don’t exactly scoff at them.
“A lot of teachers who would otherwise be floating would rather have a mobile classroom,” he said.
That includes art, music and special education teachers who sometimes shift classrooms throughout the day using carts to travel to move their materials.
School board Chairman Dr. Jim Emerson said it’s more economical to schedule teachers to be floating, but the situation can be tough on them, something he saw during his years as a high school principal.
“If I got a mobile unit, those teachers that would be floating would fight over it because they would rather have their own space,” he said.
Emerson said much of the district’s space needs could be remedied through redistricting, but he doesn’t expect that topic to come up again anytime soon.
School board members tabled redistricting talks in November 2009 after opposition from parents and the community.
“A lot of people would rather go to a crowded school than go to another school,” Emerson said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation
Facebook: facebook.com/Sarah.SalisburyPost

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