Six more schools needed
Draft EIS estimates 6,268 new students by 2014
By Brett Kelman • Pacific Daily News • December 24, 2009
The coming military buildup could require the local government to spend almost $100 million to build as many as six new schools.
Yesterday, Guam Department of Education Superintendent Nerissa Bretania Underwood said military growth estimates are lower than expected. When DOE performed its own estimates in November, buildup growth was expected to be more dramatic and more expensive, she said.
"What I was reading today from the draft (Environmental Impact Statement) the impact was a bit less than what we had anticipated," Underwood said yesterday morning.
According to population estimates in the draft EIS, public schools should be ready to absorb about 6,268 new students by the peak of the buildup in 2014.
These will be the children of workers who come to Guam for jobs in the expanding civilian economy. Military dependents and most civilians who work for the Department of Defense can send their children to military schools, the draft EIS states.
The new public school students include:
•About 3,173 elementary school students, which is enough to fill four schools;
•About 1,331 middle school students, which could fill one large middle school or be split between two schools; and
•About 1,764 high school students, which will fill one medium-to large-sized high school.
Underwood said she needs more information about what region on the island these children will live in to plan for the future. Although most of the buildup activity will take place in northern and central Guam, these families will not necessarily live in those areas.
Housing shortages may force workers to commute from the southern half of the island. And because some of Guam's southern schools have empty space, this could lessen the amount of growth needed, Underwood said.
Southern High School is only half full, she said.
"The island is small enough. We have to determine where these school are needed," Underwood said. "... Depending on the more accurate data we will get, the south may be able to absorb some of the need for additional schools."
Also, the draft EIS doesn't factor the capacity of local private schools to absorb students, so some of this growth may fall outside of DOE, Underwood said.
Even if there were no military buildup on the horizon, DOE would still need to build.
More schools are already needed in northern Guam today, Underwood said. The growth required by the coming military buildup stack on an existing demand for new schools to serve the existing student population.
DOE already needs a new northern middle and high school, but the land where these were going to be built will be absorbed by a proposed military firing range, Underwood said.
The new high school might be moved to the Ysengsong Road area and a new middle school might be built behind J.M Guerrero Elementary School, Underwood said.
New northern elementary schools are filling up quickly, too.
Guam already needs another elementary school, and Machananao Elementary, one of the most northern schools, might need to expand also, Underwood said.
With more students and more schools, public schools will need more teachers.
Guam DOE will need about 420 new teachers by 2014, the draft EIS states. That need doesn't include existing teacher shortages, which plague the school system almost every year.
Since a nationwide teacher shortage is forcing school districts to compete for limited manpower, Guam's best hope for teachers is to grow its own, Underwood said.
"I attended the graduation at the University of Guam. And they aren't going to be able to meet this unless we do our part to start engaging our students (who want to be teachers)," Underwood said.
Underwood said students who have a good experience in public schools are more likely to return as teachers.
Underwood said she was formerly worried that the school system would lose its teachers to the expanding Department of Defense Education Activity school system, which pays higher salaries and has newer facilities.
On Tuesday, DODEA leaders said they would recruit from a large off-island applicant pool instead of pilfering from local schools. Underwood said she is no longer worried about the teacher work force shrinking.
The draft EIS said military dependents who move to Guam because of the buildup could become teachers in local public schools. They could also work in military schools.