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Attendance grows at Rome High, across system; pressure building for RCS to develop plan of how to make room for more students

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Through seven days of school, attendance at Rome High is reflecting an inflation of 225 students, jumping to 1,785 from 1,560 last year at this time. And Rome City Schools Superintendent Lou Byars said this year’s growth of the student body isn’t likely to be done just yet.

Byars briefed Rome Board of Education members on the attendance numbers during Tuesday’s meeting — the system looks at attendance rather than enrollment this early in the year, since a student could still be enrolled in Rome City but be attending a different school.

Overall for the system, there are 159 more students than last year — 6,154 from 5,995. Rome Middle is seeing an uptick of 46 students, reaching 941 from 895 last year.

Byars said the system can generally assume that it will add 200 to 250 students overall by Sept. 1. For the high school, this is putting pressure on officials to come up with a contingency plan to add space. If the anticipated growth does happen, then the system would have to add trailers at Rome High, he explained.

Without a planned multipurpose facility built on the campus yet, the system is limited in what it can do in response to space issues. Also, funding for a new building at Rome High is uncertain until voters take to the polls this November, deciding the fate of the facility’s primary money source — another five years of an education local option sales tax.

At the elementary level, five of the six schools actually saw attendance drop this year — Anna K. Davie Elementary is the only one that saw growth, with 453 students this year from 410 last year. And even with combining North Heights Elementary and Main Elementary, there are 17 students less this year than the aggregate of attendance numbers from each school last year.

In action items, the board approved a purchase of 600 Chromebooks for the system’s second-graders; set up J&R Construction & Development Inc. as the construction manager at-risk for the project of building a new Main Elementary; and gave the go-ahead on the site plan for Main.

The Chromebooks cost $199,800, and in addition, 32 charging carts are being bought at a price of $16,480. In total, the system will pay $216,280, which will be covered with funds from the current ELOST.

Tim Williams, the system’s chief operations officer, said the purchase furthers the goal of getting a device in the hands of every student. Once the Chromebooks get into each second-grade classroom, first-graders and kindergartners will be next for receiving Chromebooks — all students from third grade to 12th grade already have the laptops.

Byars said the system hopes to reach a complete one-to-one ratio of students and Chromebooks by the end of this school year.

J&R Construction, which is based out of Carrollton, was one of three construction management firms that submitted bids for the project, which is estimated to run the system $10 million to $12 million. Williams said J&R will oversee the project and will hold all liability.

If the ELOST passes, Byars said the company can get right to setting up bid packages for subcontractors, helping ensure Main is set to open for the 2019-2020 school year.

The site plan for Main will be sent to the state Department of Education for approval, and is something required even though the new school will be on the same site as the current one. There are a few changes to the original plan, Byars said, including the addition of a front parking lot, and the new school would now come right up against the current gym rather than being connected by a walkway.