Growth Strains Washington County Schools

Growth Strains Washington County Schools

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ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) -- Rapid growth in southern Utah's Washington County is straining the capabilities of the local school district in more ways that one.

Washington County School District officials expect to add 2,000 students to classrooms this fall, marking the second consecutive year of significant growth. The district already serves about 22,000 students.

"Last year we had a 6.3 percent increase in the number of students over the previous year," said Brent Bills, district business administrator. "This year we're expecting more than 2,000 new students. That's a 9 percent increase across the board in every grade."

District facilities can't keep up with the growing demand.

One new elementary school, Little Valley on St. George's east side, is under construction, but wasn't open in time for the school year. The situation has forced students and teachers of two school communities to share another school building on a split schedule.

Rising property values in the area mean the district will get millions of new tax dollars with which to build more schools in the future.

This year alone the district expects to see $4.6 million more in new revenue -- a 12.5 increase -- and raise the district budget to a little more than $41 million, Rose said.

"In the next two years, the district will see several new schools being added; as many as five," district superintendent Max Rose said in his annual report to the community. "The commitment of the district is to not get caught in the trap of being too slow to respond."

But while the high costs of housing in the area is good for the district's bottom line, it also makes it tough to hire teachers who can afford to live here, Rose said.

The average cost of a 2,400-square foot single family home in the area is nearly $260,000.

"We've actually had teachers accept positions and then call back in a few days and tell us they can't afford to live here," said Bills. "The cost of housing has gone up so much it's really starting to become problematic for us."

District officials have begun talking with local city leaders, economic development groups and building contractors to look for solutions, Bills said.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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