Salem-Keizer schools face overcrowding head-on

District won't have enough classroom space for more than 1,000 students in 5 years

The cafeteria inside McKay High School in Salem, November 29, 2016 (KOIN)
The cafeteria inside McKay High School in Salem, November 29, 2016 (KOIN)

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — Overcrowding is a growing problem for the Salem-Keizer schools and it’s only going to get worse. Over the next 20 years, more than 46,000 more students are expected in the district.

McKay High School was built to hold 1700 students. It now holds 2400, with 14 portable classrooms helping with space. The cafeteria is overcrowded, even with multiple lunch periods. Students find other places around the school to have some quiet time.

A one-time storage room is now an orchestra classroom. There are also maintenance issues the district wants to solve.

So the Salem-Keizer School District created a task force to address overcrowding that is expected if enrollment and local population growth continues.

Salem-Keizer School District COO Mike Wolfe, November 29, 2016 (KOIN)
Salem-Keizer School District COO Mike Wolfe, November 29, 2016 (KOIN)

The task force will look at several options — building new schools, adding on wings to existing schools or changing the district’s boundaries.

Mike Wolfe, the COO of the Salem-Keizer district, told KOIN 6 News it’s not as simple as just building more schools.

“We don’t have capacity within our general operating fund budget,” he said. In other words, not enough money.

Adding to the problem of crowding is the district’s aging facilities. Currently, 177 portable classrooms are used throughout the district with 40% of those being more than 20 years old. By 2025 nearly 60% will be more than 20 years old.

The district task force expects to make some recommendations to the school board in the spring, including how to pay for it with possibly a new bond.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.