Elbow room needed: Overcrowding still a problem in Everett classrooms

EVERETT, Wash. -- As kids begin heading back to school, students in Everett may be struggling for elbow room. School overcrowding continues to be an issue throughout the district.

Everett’s newest school superintendent, Ian Saltzman, is on tour right now, going school to school to meet with his new community. And parents are telling him there are too many kids and not enough classrooms.

Kari Jacobson’s son is in high school now, but she says overcrowding in his classrooms has been an issue since elementary school.

“There was 20 kids, then all of a sudden there was 25 kids, then there’s 30 kids in the classroom,” said Jacobson. “I mean, that is just too much. He’s not able to get the conversations with teachers because there’s so many kids.”

Saltzman says this is nothing new to him. School overcrowding was a big issue during his 30 years in the Florida schools system.

“I think you have overcrowding here because like many other urban communities, people are moving here because it’s a great place to live,” said Saltzman.

But Everett’s popularity is also making the schools there burst at the seams, especially in the south end, where the city is expected to add another 1,200 students in the next 10 years.

It’s why the school board recently drew up boundary changes that will transfer hundreds of students from one end of the city to the other.

“That does buy us some time because it basically redistributes our enrollment from our south end to our north end,” said Mike Gunn, director of facilities and operations. “So we’re using all of our capacity at our high schools.” 

Most parents believe the answer to the overcrowding issue is more schools.

The finishing touches are being put on a new elementary school right now, but voters have shot down three out of the last four bond measure to build new high schools. 

“There’s a little bit of tax fatigue,” said Jennifer Black, a parent in the district. “Things have gotten expensive. Even when you maintain a steady tax rate the value of our houses are going up, and so our taxes are going up.”

Everett school officials are pushing the state Legislature to change the current requirement to pass bonds for new schools. Right now the bond has to win by a super majority, 60 percent or more, to pass. If the rule required a simple majority, the last three bonds to build new schools in Everett would have passed.

It is likely the biggest challenge facing Everett’s new superintendent, but Ian Saltzman says it is one he is ready for.

“I don’t look at it like issues, I look at it as opportunities," he said.