Hallsville schools feeling the strain of population growth
HALLSVILLE – Hallsville, Missouri, is only about 15 miles outside of Columbia. It’s small -- only one traffic light, about a square mile of land and a population of about 1,500 as of the last census.
But the town is growing. Mayor Mickey Nichols said the population is expected to be 2,000 in just two years. This quick growth has put a strain on the town’s schools.
As many mid-Missouri communities grow, the school districts are unable to keep up. These schools are experiencing overcrowding, and some districts cannot secure enough funding to expand them.
“The theory was always that if you started to grow you would have new houses and new businesses, and somehow magically the tax base would keep up with your needs,” said MU assistant education professor Chris Belcher. “But in really rapidly growing schools, they get behind.”
Hallsville schools are currently at 111 percent capacity, according to Hallsville School District director of communications Marci Minor. They need to build a new middle school but cannot take out enough bonds.
Tonya Schleeter is a Hallsville parent and school alumna who has seen the district’s growth firsthand. The average class size has almost tripled since she attended more than 20 years ago. She said the schools are using every scrap of space.
“There is one classroom that's actually got changed from a maintenance closet into a classroom this year,” she said.
A chief problem in the district is the primary school’s size. The cafeteria, gymnasium and an auditorium all share a space, leading parents to call it the “cafe-gym-torium.”
Schleeter said the lack of space has affected her son’s extracurricular activities.
“I think it makes it more difficult on the coaches and the things for scheduling,” she said. “He was in third grade, and he was having practices at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night because that's the time when the gym was available.”
Events held at the gym are typically packed too, Schleeter said.
“You better get there an hour, hour-and-a-half prior to the event to be able to get a seat in the current auditorium,” she said.
Nichols said the school district needs more space in order to provide a quality education.
“You have to have a good school system, or people are not going to want to come to the area,” he said.
The district is proposing a $7 million bond to address the overcrowding of Hallsville’s intermediate elementary school and to construct a gymnasium, Minor said.
The bond issue would address the lack of classroom space by adding eight second-grade classrooms to Hallsville Primary School. The funding would allow the district to move its second-grade students from the intermediate school to the primary school.
The new gym would be designed to serve as a space for physical education classes and community events and work as a storm shelter.
The district’s bond issue also includes a 1.42 acres real estate purchase and possible additions to the kindergarten and first-grade hallways.
The bond must get a supermajority of 57.14 percent to pass, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“The community gets to decide what they want, and taxpayers’ money is used to produce that for many schools around the area,” Belcher said.
Minor said the bond issue will improve Hallsville residents’ quality of life.
“Our community needs to understand we’re growing,” Minor said. “But people are moving here because they want to go to school here.”
The no-tax-increase bond will be voted on Tuesday.