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SCHOOL CAPACITY CLAIMS DISPUTED ISLAND SUPERINTENDENT TAKES ISSUE WITH COUNCILMAN

Grand Island School Superintendent Lee J. Cravotta Monday disputed claims by a town councilman who said a state study shows the island's public schools have more than enough capacity to accommodate additional pupils.

Councilman James R. Sharpe presented the figures Sunday at a meeting of residents who oppose the School Board's proposed multimillion dollar capital improvements bond issue.

"The numbers are wrong," Cravotta told a resident at Monday's School Board meeting. "I don't know where he got them."

The dispute over whether the island's two elementary schools are at capacity is the result of the board's recommendation that a new school be built to relieve overcrowding. In deference to those who argued that the former Sidway Elementary School be expanded and reopened instead, the board last month agreed to offer voters that choice when the bond issue is put to a referendum.

But there are some who still question whether classrooms are actually overcrowded and they express further skepticism about the need for a bond issue at all.

However, Cravotta said the state Education Department's recommended rate of capacity is misleading if you don't take certain variables into account. "The rate of capacity is based on how you are using your facilities," he said. "As schools change their programs, it will affect their rate of capacity from year to year."

In the first through sixth grades, the rate of capacity is based on an average of 27 pupils per classroom. For kindergarten and special education classrooms that are 770 square feet or more, Cravotta said, the capacity rate is based on a ratio of 12 pupils to one teacher.

There are 20 classrooms each at Huth Road and Kaegebein and 11 available at Sidway.

Cravotta said the rate of capacity only includes regular classrooms and not computer labs or music and art rooms. At Huth Road Elementary, he added, there are no music and art rooms because of overcrowding.

He said the current recommended rate of capacity at Huth Road is 864 pupils; at Kaegebein, 783; and at Sidway, 486. He invited those who do not trust his figures to check their accuracy with the state Education Department.

According to enrollment figures Cravotta released Monday, the average classroom size at both Huth Road and Kaegebein is more than 30 pupils. Current enrollment is 699 at Huth Road, and 638 at Kaegebein, he said.

Projected enrollment figures for the 1991-92 school year, he said, are 747 at Huth Road and 658 at Kaegebein.

Cravotta said updated figures on the state's recommended rate of capacity will be provided once the programs and figures included in the bond issue proposal are approved by the state Education Department.

He said the district will have a minimum of 45 days from the time the proposal is approved by the state to present it in a package to residents in a referendum.

Preliminary figures for the bond issue are: renovating and expanding Sidway, $13.5 million, and building a new school, $15.1 million. In addition, there is a projected $1.6 million cost for equipment regardless of which option is approved.

Reconstructing Sidway is currently estimated at $5.5 million, while building a new school is now estimated at $7.9 million. The rest of the bond would cover costs for repairs and renovations at the middle-senior high school and at the two existing elementary schools.

Cravotta said the district will rely on its bond counsel to determine what the bond issue's impact on the tax rate will be. That, he said, won't be known until the education commissioner approves the district's proposal.

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