Sparta school officials thinking ahead; student distribution plan proposed

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:18

    SPARTA-Walk through the halls of Sparta High School and see what Thomas Morton is greeted by each day. There may be books and globes cluttered on the floors; copy machines lining the walls. Some days there are classrooms in the closets and closets in the classrooms. "If we could get every citizen in this town to walk through our school hallways, getting support for a new facility would not be an issue," said the school superintendent after a recent board of education meeting where he introduced three plans to distribute students in the district if and when township voters approve construction of a proposed $53.9 million high school. "There's no doubt about it." That's why Morton said he and Sparta officials continue to outline plans for when that day may come. One suggestion, he recommends, would house kindergarten students in the Mohawk Avenue School, and grades 1-3 in the Alpine and Helen Morgan schools. One of plans calls for students in grades 4-5 to move to the current high school, 6-8 to attend classes at the existing middle school, and 9-12 students to move to a new high school. "The educational program in our town will be adversely affected if we do not do something about our facilities," said Morton. "I have to plan and put the best explanation of that plan to the township." Morton said a second proposal would distribute students in grades K-3 to Alpine and Helen Morgan, and 1-3 to Mohawk Avenue schools. A third plan, that Morton opposes, would close the Mohawk Avenue School and, instead, house all K-3 students in the Alpine and Helen Morgan schools. Morton said the board would determine the educational benefits of each of the plans before making a decision, weighing in transportation and staffing logistics, meeting various school codes, and the proximity of each school to students, among others. He said that full-day kindergarten would be one option open to students in the district. "There'll be some debate back and forth," said Morton. "Anything is possible. Maybe someone else has a better plan. I'd be willing to listen." The board is trying to acquire part of a 203-acre tract behind the firehouse off Woodport Road that stretches up to Route 15 where they would like to build the new high school in response to the township's growing student population (See related story on page 1). Sparta officials project that this year's high school class of 240 senior students will be replaced by 370 current eighth-graders. "This township is at a crossroads," said Morton. "It has to make a decision whether or not it is going to support some facilities' improvement in the town. We have too many children in our elementary schools and too many children in our high schools." The board is eager to move ahead with its plans for the new high school so that the township can qualify for about $12-15 million in state aid. According to a board official, Sparta has until July to finalize plans in order to secure funding with the state. The cost for building a new high school will then be put before voters in a September referendum. If approved, the new high school would be "on target" for occupancy in September 2008. Last year, Sparta voters turned down a referendum that called for construction of a new elementary school. In June, a committee appointed by the board recommended plans for a new high school.