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Concerns over West Middle School's ability to handle incoming students

Even with the promise of declining enrollment numbers and building improvements, many Muscatine parents are still concerned over West Middle School's ability to house both it and Central Middle School's student populations in the upcoming year.

MUSCATINE — The merger between the Muscatine middle schools seems to be inevitable, but that didn't stop some parents for voicing their opposition to it Monday. 

At the Dec. 9 School Board meeting, board member Mike Morgan reported that enrollment is decreasing. Elementary schools currently have 579 students, and because of low community birthrates, that number is expected to drop.

The decline in enrollment has resulted in the district losing $3.8 million in state funding. “When you see such a significant decline in enrollment, usually your options are either to reduce staff, programs or facilities,” Morgan said. The district has avoided the first two options, making the option to close schools such as Central Middle and Colorado more necessary.

To ensure West Middle School — soon to be Susan Clark Junior High School — is ready for more students, improvements and building updates were proposed to the board. Board members also voted to enter a lease with Mountain Home Company for a mobile classroom for Madison School at the one-time cost of $25,000 to help with space issues there.

For some parents, these moves are too little, too late. Carrie Zorich, mother of three, sees the proposed team-teaching for large classes as an indicator of overcrowding, and said a class shouldn't need two or more teachers to handle all the kids.

Zorich said enrollment is only supposed to decline by 67 students from K-12, and that doesn't warrant the number of proposed school districts. “Should their education suffer this much just because we’re getting ready for the numbers to drop eventually down the road?” she asked.

Parent Molly Boyer said students are struggling with the sixth grade merging into the elementary schools. She shared the stories of a first grader who no longer leaves the classroom for art and music, only leaving for lunch and recess, and fourth graders who are forced to eat lunch in their classrooms.

“The fun things in school,” like art and music have been taken away because of space issues, she said. “A lot of these consequences were not presented to the parents before they happened. If parents had had that knowledge of all these different events that have happened, you would have heard our voices a long time ago."

Parent Jill Holler said while the average elementary school classroom has 21.9 students, the average isn't the reality. In actuality, some classes have 35-38 students, with many school facilities such as the cafeteria, gym and locker rooms still being unequipped to handle this many students.

The school board hopes to plan forums to receive more public feedback on these issues, but some parents don't feel as if they are being heard soon enough. “I’m wondering: is anyone listening?” Holler said. “Do you care about the voice of the people?”

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