By BOB OLIVER
DEARBORN — The Dearborn Public Schools student enrollment is going up, leading to concerns that the schools will have overcrowding issues to tackle in the next few years.
At the DPS Board of Education meeting Nov. 11, Director of Student Services Ibrahim Mashhour informed the board that the student count is higher this year than anticipated.
“Our original projections were for 19,195 students for this school year, which we revised to 19,450 in the spring, but our actual student body number, as of October 2, was 19,464,” Mahhour said.
“We have a few more students than we anticipated, but obviously we welcome all the students to our schools and we hope that we can continue to grow as a school district.”
This is the 26th consecutive year of growth for the DPS, the third largest school district in the state.
Board Trustee Aimee Schoelles said she was worried about the increase moving forward because of overcrowding issues the district may have in its high schools in the next three or four years.
“We have 1,407 ninth-graders, 1,748 tenth-graders and over 1,100 eleventh-graders,” Schoelles said. “My concern is that we have overcrowded high schools right now and we have 1,100 seniors. We have to find room for all of these students that are coming up.”
She said looking at student numbers at even lower grades shows a similar trend.
“We will have 1,400 incoming freshman next year,” Schoelles said. “We also have 1,500 students in sixth grade, so if you look ahead three years, we are going to have some seriously overcrowded high schools.”
Schoelles said one explanation for the increasing numbers was because the high schools retain students who take longer than four years to graduate high school, which makes the count of seniors less and the lower grades higher.
She said that although graduation rates have risen at the district’s three high schools, there are still students who are held back for failing grades.
“If we keep these retention rates, in four years we are going to be desperate for space,” Schoelles said.
DPS Communications Coordinator David Mustonen said the number of students in each building is something that the district keeps a very strict eye on.
“We’ve done numerous studies to check the student capacities for each of our buildings,” Mustonen said. “There are different ways to approach it too, whether it’s capacity from an architechtural standpoint or a fire code or educational standpoint. We also look at what is realistic to be able to keep things running smoothly at that building.”
He said discussions have taken place between the administration, the board and principals from every school building in the district and that the maximum allowable students in each building has been agreed upon by all.
According to a spreadsheet listing the ideal versus maximum capacities at each building, Edsel Ford and Fordson high schools have student bodies under the maximum, with EFHS being approximately 180 students under its maximum capacity and FHS being about 150 students under.
Dearborn High School is approximately 150 students over its capacity, with 1,833 students in a building listed for between 1,535 and 1,685.
“We are over capacity at Dearborn High, but we also have 100 or more students in that school who are dual-enrolled or take classes at the Michael Berry Career Center,” Mustonen said. “Some students only take classes in the morning and some only in the afternoon, so that helps to bring student traffic down in the building.”
He said the growing student body was one of the main catalysts for the district looking into modifying and adding onto buildings as part of the $76 SMART bond voters approved in the general election Nov. 5.
DPS Supt. Brian Whiston said the district was aware of the increasing student body numbers and that it is already working to find solutions to overcrowding issues that might crop up in the future.
He said the district would rather be dealing with too many students than too few.
Whiston also said that one thing that could help the high schools is if more students take advantage of the district’s Henry Ford Collegiate Academy five-year program, which allows students to attend courses both in their high school and at Henry Ford Community College and graduate in five years with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree.
“If we can get a few hundred students to enter the Collegiate Academy programs every year it will reduce traffic in the schools and allow room for the additional students,” Whiston said.
The program was started by the district this year and currently 66 students enrolled in it.
Board President Pam Adams said that while climbing student numbers are good for the district, special attention will have to be paid to make sure that every student still receives the best education possible at the schools despite the buildings getting fuller.
(Bob Oliver can be reached at [email protected])