The future of Bossier High

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With declining attendance, new report will give suggestions for courses of action

What is the long-term future of Bossier High School?

A demographer’s report being finalized for the Bossier Parish School Board will project student enrollment from 2014 to 2024 and could provide a glimpse into the future.

Once the primary high school in Bossier City, Bossier High School was officially recognized as an accredited educational institution by the Louisiana Department of Education in 1917. Officials selected a new site for the school in 1938 and in 1940 the original buildings on the current campus were constructed.

Today, Bossier City and the surrounding area are experiencing outward residential growth to the north, south and east.

Bond money is largely being spent on creating new schools and expanding existing schools to meet projected growth as subdivisions sprout up north of I-220, south Bossier and around Haughton. New elementary schools mean there will be an increased demand for classroom space at nearby middle schools and high schools as the students grow older.

Airline High School, already the largest in Bossier Parish, is scheduled for a $22.65 million enhancement that will bump its capacity to 2,000 students. Parkway High School, only a few years removed from locating to an entirely new campus in south Bossier, is slated for a 12-classroom addition in Phase Two of the $210 million bond issue approved by voters in April 2012.

At a time that millions of dollars are earmarked for expansion and other improvements at Airline High School and Parkway High School, figures provided by the school district show Bossier High School is sitting half empty.

With 55 classrooms as of January 2012, Bossier High School has a functional estimated capacity of 1,361. As of Oct. 1, 2013, actual enrollment at Bossier High School was 607 students. Officials say the issue is not lots of classrooms sitting empty but rather classrooms having fewer students than designed capacity.

From 2010 to 2013, enrollment at Bossier High School decreased by 41 students. During the same period, enrollment at Airline High School increased by 188 and enrollment at Parkway High increased by 74. By projecting out to 2024, the report could indicate whether the decrease at Bossier High School is a temporary phenomenon or a long-term trend.

Enrollment projection studies typically analyze, by grade and location, the number of students expected several years in advance, A major increase in first grade students, for example, can be a precursor to a major increase in high school students as those students grow older.

Keith Norwood, Planning and Construction Supervisor for Bossier Parish School Board, said several factors have affected enrollment at Bossier High School. Among those are former residential areas turning into commercial zones and an aging population within the attendance zone without a corresponding influx of younger families with school-age children.

Sonja Bailes, public relations liaison for the Bossier Parish School Board, said when the 2012 bond issue was being formulated some people had suggested closing Bossier High School.

“That’s not an option,”Bailes said. ”Even with the expansion at Airline High School, that would not be enough to hold Bossier High School students.”

At a time that more capacity is being planned for schools, reducing the number of high schools in Bossier City is not viable. But if the number of high school age students close to Bossier High School continues to decline – a question the demographer’s report may answer –  the Bossier Parish School Board could face some difficult choices within several years.

In theory, available options range from a change in high school attendance zones, to consolidating two schools on the existing campus, to relocating the school to an entirely different campus. These options, as well as others, have advantages as well as disadvantages.

Bailes said the school system does not currently have available accurate attendance zone maps but hopes to have updated ones published for Fall 2014. However, it is automatic that increasing Bossier High School’s enrollment by expanding its attendance zone would entail shifting areas now within either the Airline or Parkway attendance zones.

Because of the under-utilization of Bossier High School, however, officials say a major change in attendance zones would be needed to get Bossier High School to near capacity. The attendance zones for the three high schools have been long-established and officials said Department of Justice approval would be needed.

Prior to the 2012 school bond proposal, a study determined that Bossier High School was one of the best built schools within Bossier Parish and that renovations, such as upgrading the electrical system, were justified. About $3.4 million was earmarked for renovation in the approved bond issue, and the school received a major electrical system renovation that was completed prior to the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

Moving Bossier High School to an entirely new campus would not be without precedent. Back in the 1930s the school relocated to a new campus, Parkway High School is only a few years removed from relocating to a new campus, and a new campus is planned for Haughton Middle School.