Sisters Elementary School has run out of room.
The school will need portable classrooms next year to accommodate student growth. It’s so small that fifth graders, who are traditionally the oldest students in an elementary, have attended Sisters Middle School for more than a decade. And when small groups of students are taken outside the classroom for instruction, there’s no common rooms or small classes for them.
They’re taught on the stage, in the hallway or even inside a closet.
“It’s not ideal. You don’t want kids in a closet,” said Principal Joan Warburg. “Who wants learning in the hall? I don’t.”
School administrators say these capacity issues could be fixed if voters approve Sisters School District’s $33 million bond on May 18.
“If we don’t (pass the bond), I’m not sure how we fit in more kids,” Warburg said.
The bond would replace Sisters Elementary School — the school district’s oldest building — with a larger, K-5 school right next to Sisters high and middle schools.
Sisters school leaders tout increased capacity, the convenience of being next to the district’s existing schools and an outdated building as the main reasons for a new school.
School officials say a new building is simply needed for a city where new families keep arriving. Sisters’ population grew by nearly 35% between 2010 and 2018, from 2,038 people to 2,747, according to the U.S. Census Bureau estimates. It’s a growth rate comparable to Bend.
“The area’s growing quickly, and we want to make sure we’re ready for kids,” said Superintendent Curt Scholl.
And for locals who need convincing, the bond won’t raise property taxes, said Scholl. It will maintain the tax rate that’s been in place since residents passed a bond in 2001 to build Sisters High School, he said.
A new, larger Sisters Elementary would bring fifth graders back to the school. The current setup is vexing for staff. When Warburg orders elementary curriculum, it always comes as a K-5 package — which means she has to oversee what teachers are doing in an entirely separate building, she said.
Furthermore, gifted fourth graders who might benefit from sitting in for some fifth-grade lessons don’t get to do so in the current setup, Warburg said.
“We can’t transport kids across town just to do that,” she said.
Capacity aside, Sisters Elementary also dates back to the 1970s. Warburg quipped that it took a year and half to replace lightbulbs in her office and some hallways, since the ballasts that held the bulbs were so outdated that nobody made them anymore.
Even small upgrades in previous bonds, from replacing carpeting to adding classrooms, can’t fix everything, she said.
“It’s starting to show its age, regardless of how much we repair it,” she said.
Because the new school would be built next to Sisters high and middle schools, on the city’s western edge, life would be easier for school district staffers like the Latino family liaison or school psychologist, who work with students at all three schools, said Warburg.
It could also make commutes easier for parents like Haley Ellis, who has students at both Sisters Elementary and Sisters Middle schools. The schools are on opposite sides of the city, and traffic going east to west, or vice versa, can be rough due to Sisters only having a couple main thoroughfares, she said.
“It would definitely make my life simpler to have (the schools) all consolidated,” said Ellis, who’s also a member of a political action committee to pass the bond.
The school board decided to put the bond on the May ballot, rather than November, due to timing, Scholl said. If passed in May, the district can get a head start on building the school in time for 2023-24 school year, he said.
“With November, I’m not sure we’d be able to make that timeline,” Scholl said.
The school district hopes to pay for other various repairs and upgrades in the district if the bond passes, said Scholl. But because the price of building the new school is still unknown due to fluctuating construction costs, he won’t know how much money will be left over. So he didn’t want to guarantee additional projects yet, he said.
Mylee Card — a kindergarten teacher at Sisters Elementary and mother of two young children — said a new elementary is needed.
“We are very much over crowded here at SES — and our population doesn’t seem to be decreasing,” Card wrote in an email. “I also have a daughter that will be a kindergarten student next year, and I’m very excited for her to have the possibility of the new school and all the positive things that would bring!”