Panama City Beach School Overcrowding Seeks Solutions

By: Cameron Taylor Email
By: Cameron Taylor Email

PANAMA CITY BEACH - Bay County school district officials have some tough and possibly costly decisions to make. They must solve an overcrowding problem at schools in Panama City Beach.

The beach overcrowding problem has become a priority for the Bay County school district. A task force was created to come up with recommendations.

The student population on the elementary side of Breakfast Point Academy is overcapacity

"Creativity is something we've become pretty good at," said Denise Kelley, Principal of Breakfast Point Academy.

Kelley says that creativity includes hiring six associate teachers to boost the size of some classes to 35 students. They also brought in portables since the school can't expand on nearby protected wetlands.

"I really don't feel like our students are missing out on anything because we're being overcrowded. We stay in a constant communication with our teachers," said Kelley.

Breakfast Point Academy's elementary side has a capacity of 801 students, but their current enrollment is 958 students.

"We have really unprecedented growth on the beach and growth is a good thing. We like growth. We'd rather be gaining students than losing students,"said Steve Moss, a School Board member.

While most attribute the problem to growth, numbers obtained by NewsChannel 7 show something else.

The number of children zoned for the school have stayed about the same for the past two years. For the 2012-2013 school year, 953 children were zoned for the school's elementary school. 459 were zoned for the middle school.

For the 2013-2014 school year, 955 children were zoned for the school's elementary school and 460 children for the middle school.

What has changed dramatically is the amount of children accepted to the school through choice. That's where parents choose where their kids go to school.

Last year, the district accepted more than 200 students and that number grew to more than 300 this year for Breakfast Point Academy.

Only 21 of those choice applications were approved for hardship reasons.

The 119% capacity rate is one of the reasons why a beach overcrowding task force was put together. Statistics show most elementary schools on the beach have grown over the years.

"One of the most realistic expectations that folks can see going forward probably is some type of rezoning. It's been several years before we've done that on the beach," said Moss.

It doesn't stop there. Reopening West Bay Elementary is an option, but it would cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.It's a school you're already paying to maintain even though it's closed.

Another option: expand Surfside Middle School to a K-8. The long term solution may be building a brand new school.

"I think when you factor in those enrollment increases with some of the other factors, it has pushed some of the panama city beach schools over capacity," said Lee Stafford, Student Services Director for Bay District Schools.

One thing all task force members seem to agree on is school choice

Superintendent Bill Husfelt expects to receive the recommendations from the task force soon. The ideas could be discussed at a school board meeting in the next few weeks.

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