Bigger and bigger
Wentzville School District’s record growth looks to continue well into the next decade
By Brett Auten
The question isn’t right now, it’s two or three years from now.
When you’re the fastest growing school district in Missouri that is the mentality.
The Wentzville School District has increased student enrollment by more than 10,000 students since 2001, averaging well over 500 new students every year. The district has built 11 new schools in the past 17 years, including two new elementary schools that opened this year, both of which are the largest elementary schools in the district’s history with a 900-student capacity.
The district currently has 16,382 students, K-12 with 12 elementary schools, three middle schools, and three high schools.
And by the looks of things, more is on the way.
An April 3, 2018 ballot item will propose a $125 million no-tax increase bond issue for a new high school, a new elementary school and classroom additions at Barfield Early Childhood, Pearce Hall (which is home to five different Wentzville School District programs; the High School Alternative Program, Missouri Options Program, Anabranch Program, Wentzville Middle School Intervention Program and Substance Abuse Prevention Program), Peine Ridge Elementary, and new gymnasium at Holt High. It is the largest bond issue ever sought by the district, and it bought 109 acres for $3.9 million this year at the northeast corner of West Meyer Road and North Point Prairie in Wentzville for new schools. Money of which came from a 2015 tax increase and district reserves.
For Wentzville superintendent, Dr. Curtis Cain, the board of education and the entire Wentzville education team, growth is on their radar, and they always anticipate it.
“We are always going to be proactive,” Cain said. “We are constantly trying to anticipate and strategize our approach when it comes to growth. We embrace the challenge. It is part of our thread.”
Part of the increase in students is tracked to census numbers. In 2017 U.S. census numbers, Wentzville grew by more than 1,800 people and has added more than 1,000 people in five of the past six years.
Things kick-started into high gear a few years ago.
In April 2015, voters in the district passed a 25-cent tax increase which provided $50 million to fund a new elementary school, classrooms, auditorium and auxiliary gym at Liberty High School, classroom additions at Duello, Discovery Ridge and Lakeview elementary schools and classroom updates at Wentzville Middle School.
Then, the Wentzville Board of Education voted that fall to use some existing funds, and borrow some funds to build another elementary school simultaneously with the one passed by voters and move all sixth graders from the three middle schools to the 12 elementary schools beginning this school year (2017-18).
According to Mary LaPak, the Chief Communications Officer with the district, the K-6 Plan for Growth provided much needed space at middle schools without requesting an additional tax increase from voters and provided the district time to pay down debt, increasing borrowing capacity so the next ballot issue for additional schools and classrooms could be financed with a no-tax-increase bond issue.
Even with all of the brick and mortar talk, it is still about the classroom.
LaPak said that the district has not only managed the growth, but its students have consistently performed in the top 10 in the state when it comes to test scoring and have a solid base in STEM and other programs.
“So, we have not only just increased the number of classrooms but have also maintained the high-quality education that people have come to expect from Wentzville,” she said.
According to projections in a demographic study released earlier this year by Business Information Services, the district could add more than 6,700 new students over the next decade. The report’s findings include calculations that indicate Holt and Timberland high schools could be over capacity by 2019 and Liberty could be over capacity by 2021. The report also shows the district will need an additional elementary school by 2023.
“There are a constant flow and stream of questions,” Cain said. “There is a myriad of issues we examine and revisit. The key for us is to keep communication open. Our walk is unique in the state of Missouri, but it is our walk.”