School districts in Butler, Warren counties cope with growth

Posted at 12:00 PM, Jun 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-16 12:00:08-04

Butler and Warren counties have been home to some of the tri-state’s most rapidly growing schools recently. At least three districts within the two counties have grown by 50 to 200 students in the past three school years.

Little Miami Schools are leading in growth, with an increase of roughly 200 students over each of the past three school years. Although the impact can be seen at all grade levels, the elementary schools have received the greatest influx.

“It’s basically across the board, but we seem to be seeing a lot of younger families moving into our district,” said Melinda Briggs, the district's director of communications.

Harlan-Butlerville Primary is one of two primary schools in within Little Miami Local School District. (Photo provided)

One of the most significant factors contributing to the growth is the amount of developable land in the area, particularly in Hamilton Township.

“We have a lot of land," Briggs said. "It’s very appealing to younger families."

Construction in the area stopped for a period following the economic recession of 2008, and in 2010, Little Miami Schools entered a state of fiscal emergency. With the fiscal emergency designation, the district, which had a student population of roughly 4,323 at that point, lost about 500 pupils.

The district came out of fiscal emergency in 2013 and an improving economy is bringing new housing developments back to the area.

“We know when those homes come … that means that there are probably children involved, and that means more students for our district,” Briggs said.

With an increase in students comes a potential need for more space. Little Miami wrapped up the 2015-16 school year with 4,498 students — the district’s highest enrollment to date.

Although it’s difficult to determine if the growth trend will continue, the district could reach its capacity of approximately 4,900 in as little as two years, Briggs said.

No plans are in place to address future growth, but that could soon change. During a June 29 meeting, school board members are expected to select an architect to create a new master plan for the district.

Kings Local School District also has experienced growth recently, with student population jumping by 85 students between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

With at least nine new housing developments coming to the area, district officials expect to see the growth continue. Based on data from the California-based company DecisionInsite, the student population is projected to increase by at least 32 students annually through 2025. Some years, the growth is projected to include as many as 100 to 200 additional students.

Kings Superintendent Tim Ackermann attributes the area’s appeal as much to the school district as to the amount of developable land.

“I think school districts always play a vital role in housing developments and where they go,” he said.

School board members earlier this year approved a plan to redistrict Kings’ three elementary buildings to prevent overcrowding at Kings Mills and South Lebanon elementary schools.

If additional space is needed in the future to accommodate growth, the district’s existing buildings can be added onto, Ackermann said. District officials are putting together a long-range facilities planning team, which will evaluate Kings’ facilities and determine future needs.

Another Warren County school system that has been growing is Lebanon City School District. The numbers have fluctuated between roughly 25 and 75 additional students each year for about a decade, said Superintendent Mark North.

While 25 additional students a year may not seem like a significant increase, he said the continued growth over several years adds up.

“It eventually builds to significant growth,” North explained.

The district is currently in the midst of construction, which included renovations and additions at the primary, elementary, intermediate and high school buildings plus a new junior high building. The primary goal of the construction projects was to improve the conditions of the buildings, but also to address past growth.

Prior to renovation, Donovan Elementary was well over capacity, with four modular units being used to accommodate students.

In addition to getting all elementary students under one roof, district officials used funding from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission to incorporate additional space into building plans at the primary, elementary and junior high schools.

“That was all in anticipation of future growth,” North said.

Hamilton City School District officials soon may also have to consider how to accommodate more students. The district has grown by about 50 to 100 students each of the past eight years, said communications director Joni Copas.

The city doesn’t have much land available for new developments, but the increase may be at least partially due to more families moving into existing residences.

“I think the city population is maybe slowly rising again,” Copas said.

With new and renovated buildings, strong fine arts and athletic programs and career-technical school Butler Tech on campus, the district may be partially to thank for drawing people to the city, she said.

“I think our facilities have definitely helped with people coming to our schools, as well,” Copas said.

Even with new buildings — four new elementary schools built in 2009 and four in 2010 — the district’s elementary schools are above capacity, she said.

No plans are yet in place to accommodate the growth, but district officials will continue monitoring enrollment trends.

“Nothing has been discussed,” Copas said. “We’ll just have to watch and see what happens.”