Avon Grove Taxpayers for Responsible Spending


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Administration Uses Various Methods
​to Show Desired Results

The capacity of the buildings within the Avon Grove School District is a critical element of the case for new facilties. With a variety of methods available to calculate capacity the Administration will select the method that best supports the case being presented to show a facility as overcrowded or having available seats.

Calculation Methods

The student capacity of a school can be determined by a variety of methods.  Each method represents a set of criteria that is applied to calculate how many students a particular facility can hold. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) defines a method that must be used when considering an expansion or construction of a new school to be eligible for State reimbursement of a portion of the project cost. The Avon Grove School District also uses a hybrid approach which is referred to as the AGSD Functional Capacity.  The calculations and method used is dependent on the type of school being considered and the desired outcome.

Penn London Elementary and Avon Grove Intermediate

PDE assumes 25 students per classroom and 100% utilization to calculate capacity for all grades.  The AGSD Functional Capacity assumes a 100% utilization and 22 students per classroom to calculate capacity for grades 1-5.  For grade 6 it is increased to 28 students.

The PDE capacity was 1025 and the AGSD Functional Capacity was 902 in the 2015 Gilbert report.  In Penn London Elementary (PLE) enrollment was reported to be 925 students in 2014.  In 2016 it dropped to 849 because of declining enrollment.  With the implementation of full day kindergarten in PLE enrollment is at 900 students.  Five modular classrooms were added to accommodate the new program and anticipated increase in enrollment to ensure that overcrowding did not impact or limit the new program.  The capacity of Penn London as calculated by PDE is now 875. We installed more rooms and the overall capacity dropped?  This reduction in capacity comes from the fact that classrooms previously used for half day kindergarten are now used all day effectively cutting their capacity in half.  Newly installed modular classrooms used to educate students today are not included in capacity.  According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education Penn London Elementary is operating at 102% of capacity.  Using the AGSD Functional Capacity method the result is 880 also ~102% of capacity.  
Does that mean that the board and administration were so shortsighted  that the building is already over capacity slightly over a month after launching FDK?  No, but it does illustrate how capacity can be reported in a manner that does not represent what is really occurring creating a perception to drive an agenda.  The board and administration actually are choosing to show Penn London Elementary as over capacity now to drive their objective to build new facilities.

Penn London Elmentary (PLE)EnrollmentPDE CapacityAGSD Functional Capacity
20149251025 [90%]902 [98%]
20168491025 [83%]902 [94%]
2017900 (with FDK)875* [103%]
880* [102%]

​* - Capacity calculation in both methods is reduced because classrooms used for half day kindergarten are now used for full day kindergarten thus cutting their capacity in half; newly purchased modular classrooms are not counted.

In Avon Grove Intermediate School (AGIS) enrollment was reported to be 1528 students in September 2017.  The PDE capacity is 1575 and the AGSD Functional Capacity is 1488. Again one calculation indicates available space while the other shows AGIS as already over capacity.  No one is pushing that AGIS is currently a capacity issue because it does not fit the current narrative and objective.

In discussions considering the implementation of FDK to show that PLE and AGIS schools have the capacity to absorb these new students with no impact on staffing or space the Administration recently introduced an entirely new method to define capacity. The Superintendent referred to a School Board
policy on maximum class sizes to demonstrate that these schools have space to accommodate the impact of FDK.  This policy is intended to define a maximum number of students per class that would be allowed before the Board would be notified and adjustments would likely be required. These numbers are well above those quoted as ideal class sizes.  Using this creative approach it is possible to assume a very high and somewhat unrealistic capacity. (K- 24, Grade 1 - 25, Grade 2 - 27, Grade 3 and beyond - 29). The Administration is striving to bring in more students to facilities they also claim are at or over capacity.  An example of this approach is shown here.

Fred S. Engle Middle and Avon Grove High

The method for calculating capacity for the upper grade schools is slightly different than the lower grades to account for the different way the schools operate.

The calculation starts by determining a building capacity which is determined by deciding how many “seats” each classroom, lab, gym, shop, etc. could contain. The number of seats defined at this point can be different based on the method chosen.  The PDE method does not count the seats that are associated with modular classrooms, classrooms smaller than 660SF or gymnasiums smaller than 2500 SF. Finally a utilization factor is applied to the seat capacity number to build in some flexibility.  The utilization factor plans for a certain percentage of seats to be unused overall to account for variations in class sizes.  PDE recommends a utilization factor of 90% or 10% excess space.  The AGSD method applies an 85% utilization for the middle school and 80% for the high school.

This is best illustrated using Avon Grove High School (AGHS) as an example.  You may have been told that AGHS is operating at 126 - 142% of rated capacity depending on the source. This brings to mind an image of a building so grossly overcrowded that students are hanging out the windows.  We will explain how you can reach a number so impressive that you couldn't possibly consider any solution other than a new building or one much much larger than what we currently have.  We will start with the current enrollment at the high school which is 1799 as of September 2017 (it has dropped somewhat from the enrollment used to calculate the percent usage referenced above).

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) capacity is quoted as 1433.  You reach this number by starting with the fact that PDE says that a classroom should ideally have no more than 25 students in it.  They also assume that there should only be a 90% utilization which says that classroom should have no more than 22.5 students in it and that anything over 22.5 students is over 100% capacity.  This approach is used to calculate a school district's eligibility for potential project reimbursement by the State when such a program was active.  This number is being presented as a representation of the operating conditions.  Most would agree that at a high school level an average class size across the school of 22.5 students is beyond an ideal state.  To suggest that 23 students in a class is over 100% capacity is not a fair representation of capacity.  It is also important to recognize that PDE specifically excludes 12 modular classrooms which account for 300 students and a few smaller classrooms which are less than 660 sq feet (170 students) and an auxiliary gym less than 2500 sq feet (33 students) that are being used to effectively educate students right now.  It also completely ignores the fact that for half of the school day 300 students leave AGHS to attend classes at the Pennock Bridge Technical College High School for what has historically been known as Vo-Tech.  Using the PDE method which ignores all this you would reach the conclusion that we are at 126% of PDE capacity.  If you were to include the modular classrooms, gymnasium and undersized rooms and cut the utilization to 80% for these you acknowledge another 402 seats that are being used today to educate our students and the capacity becomes 1835 versus a current enrollment of 1799.  

An alternative method is also shown in the Gilbert report, AGSD Functional Capacity which assumes a typical high school classroom holding more than 20 students is over 100% capacity and suggests the building capacity is 1,274 students.

All this is not to suggest that the current high school conditions are ideal.  While the overall enrollment at these schools continues to decline each school goes through its own peaks and valleys.  There is an enrollment bubble moving through the system that is currently in the high school.  Last year represented an all time high for total number of students in that building.  As we move forward the enrollment in this building will drop.  Gilbert predicts an enrollment of 1,576 by 2024/25 unless students can be drawn from the Avon Grove Charter School system. High school enrollment is the easiest area to predict accurately into the future because most of the students being considered are already in the system.

Avon Grove High SchoolEnrollment
PDE CapacityAGSD Functional Capacity
201717991433 [126%]
1274 [141%]

2017 (with modular classrooms, and other

areas at 80% utilization rate)

1835 [98%]

2024-25 (without AGCS Students)1576

2024-25 (with AGCS Students)

There are significant issues and opportunities for improvement in many areas of AGHS including storage, climate control systems, classroom availability and years of neglected maintenance among them.  Doing nothing is not a responsible choice.  We believe that these issues can and should be addressed by addressing the maintenance, performing upgrades/renovations and looking to expand in a sensible manner.  We do not believe it is necessary to take on the scale of the projects being considered to address these issues in a meaningful way.  It will require the cooperation of an Administration that is open to considering alternatives and engineering support to fully develop these alternatives. Given an opportunity to do so with the Facilities Input Group they chose instead to ensure that only options that involved construction of a new school were available for consideration.

Modular Classrooms

Modular classrooms are a relatively simple way to add classroom space to an existing facility.  From a construction and comfort standpoint these are not what one might envision as a temporary work trailer on a construction site or similar arrangement.  They are spacious, well lit, comfortable and solid structures often with better HVAC control than the main facility.

At Avon Grove High School there have been modular classrooms in use for a number of years.  The teachers and students using these rooms have not expressed concerns that they are in any way substandard to the rooms in the main building. The Administration has expressed a strong desire to eliminate the modular classrooms in favor of expanding or replacing the existing AGHS building. The capacity most often quoted when describing the facility as grossly overcapacity does not include the modular classrooms which they portray as temporary.  Some even attempt to show them in poor condition with pictures of the exterior exposed to weather and not maintained.  Are there any pictures of the room interiors of the rooms at PLE or the oldest ones at AGHS? No, because they are the equal to any room in the main building and would be indistinguishable from a typical classroom. 

For Penn London Elementary the installation of new modular classrooms has been heralded as the answer to accommodating a new full day kindergarten program.  While considering FDK it was stated that the new modular classrooms is a temporary 4-5 year solution and funding has been included in their estimate to remove them later though no cost or explanation was provided for what would be done to replace those classrooms after that. We now see that the solution is a variation of the Superintendent's original vision to build a new school and now that they are in place, similar to AGHS, capacity is presented that excludes the modular classrooms and shows PLE as grossly overcapacity to support the overall agenda.