Leaders of Galveston ISD and community volunteers charged with assessing demographic trends and facility needs in preparation for the second of two contemplated bond issues face two fundamental questions.
The first is whether the district’s student population is likely to grow greatly beyond the 7,000 or so that have enrolled during the past few years.
The second, and more complicated question, is what to do with the land and buildings deemed to be surplus.
It seems unlikely that any objective study of future enrollment trends would conclude the district should keep, and perhaps renovate, all of its existing school buildings.
While the numbers remain to be crunched, one statistic already available argues pretty clearly the district has more buildings than it needs, as several officials have argued, and more than it’s likely to need even in the fairly distant future.
The Alamo building at 5200 Avenue N 1/2 houses about 150 students attending several programs there, while it was designed to hold about 600 students, Trustee Anthony Brown said.
Likewise, the former Scott Collegiate Academy building near Ball High School is unoccupied by students and is used only as an office and rented to community groups, Brown said.
“It’s pretty clear that as we sit today, the district has more buildings and property than it currently needs,” Brown recently told a Daily News reporter.
People for years have argued that making substantial improvements in the district’s academic ratings might increase enrollment. District leaders should continue working toward those improvements, but shouldn’t count on even tremendous improvement driving a tremendous increase in enrollment.
The quality of the public-school system is only one of many factors affecting enrollment; it’s probably not in the top three. For one thing, Galveston public schools already are as good as or better than any in reasonable driving distance.
A greater influence on the island’s resident population is the cost of living here, which is more expensive than it is in most places just across the causeway. That disincentive most acutely influences families with school-age children, who are most concerned about the quality of education.
More and more, Galveston is becoming most attractive to people with the financial wherewithal or professional flexibility to live where they want to live. Mostly it’s the former and most of them have retired here from elsewhere. If they’re concerned about the quality of public education, it’s as a matter of principle.
Civic leaders should be concerned about those trends, but there’s little the school district alone can do about them.
It’s clear to us, as it is to several trustees, that the district has surplus facilities and needs cost-effective ways to manage that surplus.
The initial thought may be to sell them off, but who buys old school buildings? The market for specific-use buildings is microscopic, as we’ve already seen in the fates of the Galvez Mall and the old Gerland’s on 45th Street, to name a couple.
The dirt under those buildings is a different story, though. It could be money in the bank for the district.
Trustees are right to take their time with this question, because it’s more complicated than it may appear to be.
• Michael A. Smith