CVSD moves forward on feasibility study

The Conewago Valley school board brought in additional experts for Monday’s study session in response to requests from the community.

The district began working on a feasibility study with Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates in 2021 to gather data and decide whether to renovate or replace buildings.

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In addition to some buildings being old and having security concerns, enrollment projections show the elementary schools hitting 100% capacity in the next four years. The board is considering upgrading its buildings, renovating some buildings and installing a single K-3 school, or building a new K-3 and renovating New Oxford Elementary School.

The board held a community forum on Feb. 27. Some audience members questioned the enrollment projections.

Superintendent Sharon Perry said the board brought new faces to the meeting to offer insight in response to community feedback from the previous meeting.

“I am listening, and our board is listening to the feedback from our community having additional questions about the data that we’re using in order for the board to make the very best decision that they can,” Perry said.

Anthony Colestock, a senior project manager with Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates, was present at the board’s previous meeting on Feb. 27.

Colestock attended Monday’s meeting along with Dr. Fred Withum, a data analyst for the company.

Ron Van Orden, vice president of enrollment analytics for PowerSchool, also joined Monday’s meeting via Zoom. PowerSchool acquired DecisionInsite, a company that provided a separate enrollment projection for the district, in late 2020 and is still working with the district.

Perry said she hoped the presence of “data gurus” Withum and Van Orden would help the community better understand the information the board is using to make its decision.

Van Orden showed attendees a district map that included enrollment data. He also showed DecisionInsite’s conservative and moderate enrollment projections for Conewago Valley over a 10-year timespan.

Van Orden’s map showed red areas outlining new planned housing developments and how their anticipated populations are anticipated to affect enrollment in the district’s various schools.

Additional information showed the names of the anticipated developments, the type of housing they include and how many homes are anticipated to be occupied by school year.

“You’ll see that there’s about 783 total students expected in the moderate forecast just from the new housing,” Van Orden said. “For a lot of our clients, new housing is a very big driver of enrollment growth, and you’ll see in your projections that is factored in.”

In response to an audience member’s question about whether planned retirement communities could be factored in and inflate the projected enrollment number, Van Orden said types of housing are included in data analysis. Retirement housing, student housing and other types of housing are considered when a rate is assigned to a development, and that rate is used in the math the company uses for enrollment projections.

When asked by another individual how often the company’s projections come in under or over the actual enrollment numbers, Van Orden said the company stands behind its projections but acknowledges the possibility of error.

“We feel very strongly that we have the most accurate enrollment forecasts available,” Van Orden said. “That’s due to the technology we apply. There are times our projections are off. It is a projection. I mean, we take the best data we have, the best information we can gather from the district team, and we project that forward.”

Van Orden said some clients have been satisfied enough to stay with the company for a decade and the track record with those projections has been satisfactory.

“We have had a number of clients that have, we’ve been fortunate enough, they’ve been with us for the entirety of the 10 years, and we’ve gone back and done some analysis and checked,” Van Orden said. “Our projections do come in between those two moderate and conservative (projections.)”

Van Orden warned that the housing market is in a “bit of flux” and that the market may cool due to rising interest rates. DecisionInsite refreshes its data and provides updated projections annually.

Withum said Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates also performed their own enrollment projection and it closely matches DecisionInsite’s conservative estimate.

Withum said schools also need to add a bit of extra space to avoid needing to quickly expand again if enrollment increases more than anticipated. The number of students in special education classes is also rising, and as those classes tend to be smaller than general education classes, schools may need to add extra space to account for that, he added.

Colestock said that based on enrollment projections, the K-3 schools will reach capacity within three or four years. The district also wants to ensure that students at both New Oxford and Conewago Township elementary schools have access to facilities of equal quality.

Perry said the board normally does not livestream its study sessions but decided to offer this one as a livestream. The data shown by Van Orden and Withum was displayed on the livestream and can be viewed on the video.

The board read one submitted comment. Other verbal comments and questions were offered by community members present in the meeting room.

Among the concerns voiced were worries about funding new buildings while taxpayers struggle with inflation.

Another person wondered if the building deficiencies are the result of poor maintenance.

Colestock said the buildings match what he would expect to see given their age.

“It is not a lack of maintenance,” he said. “It is just the age of the buildings. This is not unlike anything that we would see in a building that hasn’t had a renovation in over 20 years.”

Colestock said the buildings have a lot of use.

“This is common, and we understand the efforts that the facilities department has to go through to keep up with the maintenance of the buildings, but to replace these systems, to upgrade the systems, sometimes it’s just not that easy,” Colestock said. “These buildings are heavily, heavily used, with all of the occupants, all of the students coming in, and the staff, in the evening, during the school day.”

Some audience members asked that Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates and DecisionInite ensure their information on incoming developments is up to date and that canceled projects are removed from projections. They worried that any canceled developments on the list might falsely increase the anticipated enrollment.

One individual asked that the companies’ analysts check whether the Eisenhower Drive extension could affect their projections.

Board vice president Jeffrey Kindschuh said the development lists are updated annually, but could likely be revisited sooner if a planned “substantial development” that could affect the numbers is canceled.

Van Orden added that if necessary, DecisionInsite’s projections can be updated and reevaluated “very rapidly.”

Board president Edward Groft said the board cannot put off a decision about its facilities much longer.

“The people before us didn’t want to raise taxes, so they didn’t do some of the things that needed to be done years ago,” Groft said. “We went through the same feasibility study when we built CVIS. I was on the board then. People don’t understand. We try to be conservative as much as possible. We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve outgrown our conservative ways.”

Interrupting students for long-term renovations could be distracting for them, Groft said, pointing out the negative effects disruptions from the novel coronavirus pandemic has had on students. He also said the board needs to consider whether the costs from renovations would be worth it or if the district should add a new building.

Perry said the community can continue to reach out to the school board. Information on the feasibility study is available on the district’s website under the “About Us” tab.

“You can see the journey we’ve taken and how the information has changed, how the options have changed, and we’ve been at this a long time,” Perry said. “This has been a year and a half long process. We’re still working through it. We’re getting a little bit closer to that decision, though, and that’s the time to bring our community in to hear the questions, to hear the concerns, so the board is as informed as possible to make this very difficult future decision.”

District residents can submit questions and comments to the school board via a Google Doc link provided by the board.

The board will hold a regular public meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 13 in the district board room.

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Imari Scarbrough is a freelance journalist. She was a staff newspaper reporter for five years before becoming a freelancer in 2017. She has written on crime, environmental issues, severe weather events, local and regional government and more.

You can visit her website at ImariJournal.com.

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