More than 50 Deerfield parents filled the new middle school auditorium to discuss concerns over an overcrowded elementary school at Monday's Millburn Board of Education meeting.
The Deerfield Parent-Teacher Organization told the board it has concerns with the safety and socialization of students because of an increase in the number of students now attending the school.
Deerfield has added 33 students this year, according to Lauren Hollender, co-president of the Deerfield PTO. Currently, there are five kindergarten classes and four are over limit of district guideline of 20 students per class.
"Our class size keeps getting bigger, we are growing and we continue to grow," Hollender said. "Our common space areas, such as our gym, multipurpose room and adjacent bathrooms are simply not large enough to accommodate so many students."
Since the multi-purpose room only holds 190 students by fire code, students have a split grade lunch and recess, which keeps kids from learning 'sandbox' social skills, according to a PTO member.
PTO Vice President Stacey Koplitz, explained more than 200 girls have to wait in line to use one of two bathroom stalls after lunch. Three stalls are available for boys.
The school has also been unable to have an all-school assembly in years with a gym fire code of 442, Koplitz said.
Hollender asked the board and incoming board members to plan for the future of the school district's population growth.
"I appreciate and respect that there is a potential issue but the issue is with all the schools," Millburn School Board President Michael Birnberg said. "I'm not going to have a plan that is short sighted. I want a plan that is a three to five year plan that will address the issues."
In the beginning of the school year, the board hired classroom aides to assist with the unexpected larger classes. However, the public voiced concerns for a long-term plan to prepare for a steady rise in the Deerfield student population.
Birnberg agreed, saying he doesn't want a 'band-aid fix' but the board also needs to address overcrowding at all the schools.
"We've looked at the numbers and realized it is not just a Deerfield issue and all the schools are taxed at a certain level, but we're just to be a little more taxed I think," PTO member Amy Tallbert said. "We don't have the solution, but we are willing to be a part of one."
"And that's appreciated," Birnberg replied.
A few suggestions from the board and public were:
- Soft borders for districts. Livingston was used as example.
- Centralized fifth grade.
- Centralized kindergarten through second grade.
- Portable classrooms.
- Half-day kindergarten.
Another issue with more students is more cars for pick up and drop off, a Deerfield parent told the board.
"There are cars on both sides of the street in the neighborhood around the school with one lane for traffic," she said. "You can't see these kids. It's an accident waiting to happen."
This unexpected rise has caused challenges for the district, Superintendent Dr. James Crisfield said earlier in the year.
"It's our hallways, our stairways, everything. We're just bursting at the seams," one mother said.