JAMES CITY COUNTY — During a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, members voted unanimously to allow six special uses permits for Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools (WJCCPS) to install portable classroom units for all eight of the district’s elementary schools.
According to WJCCPS Superintendent, Olwen Herron, there are three major reasons pushing the need for portable classroom units or ‘learning cottages,’ for the next schoolyear.
The need for students to social distance at least three feet from one another due to the COVID-19 has reduced the cap size for classes at all grade levels. However, nearly all of the elementary schools have been surpassing their target class sizes for the past several years.
“Without the trailers [portable classroom units], we will have several classes in several schools at or above 28 to 1,” Herron said during a public hearing.
She added that smaller class sizes were found to be more beneficial when it came to effective learning, especially with students in lower grade levels.
“Also, we want to ensure we have all students in schools, five days a week starting next year,” Herron said.
Currently, 3,500 elementary students are learning in-person, while nearly a 1,000 remain in virtual academies.
One portable classroom unit comes equipped with two individual classrooms, each with the ability to have up to 25 students. Herron said that the goal is to cap portable classrooms at 20-22 students.
The annual cost to lease a portable classroom unit is $23,296 per trailer. However, WJCCPS wants to rent eight portable classroom units over the next four schoolyears, starting with 2021-2022. This would cost $745,459.
According to Herron, the school division has the amount in its budget for two portable classroom units.
The set up cost and leasing may be covered by CARES Act or Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding.
However, because ESSER funds need to be used by September 2024, the leasing cost after that point would have to be covered at the local level.
“First of all, there’s no question, our elementary schools are overcrowded,” said Jim Icenhour, a James City County Board of Supervisors member that represents the Jamestown district. “I think any long-term solutions to our overcrowding problem in the elementary schools will have to deal with Pre-K.”
Whether these portable classroom units are a foreshadow to a possible school expansion project or construction of a new school is still up in the air.
“I think we owe it to the community and we owe it to our children in this community to provide proper full time permanent facilities for them in a timely manner. And I would like trailers [portable classroom units] to be that bridge to get us there,” Icenhour said.
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