'Explosive' growth stretches Madison schools

Madison City Schools Superintendent Robbie Parker discusses the explosive growth of the city of Madison and how it has affected the school system as he stands in front of a house under construction in Madison-annexed Limestone County.

The word Madison City Schools Superintendent Robbie Parker used more than any other Monday was "explosive." It was an appropriate word to use when talking about the massive amount of growth the city has seen in the past three years.

Parker led a school bus tour of Madison for local media outlets and Madison Board of Education members, during which he showed off new neighborhoods that have popped up in the city recently. Many of them are in Madison-annexed Limestone County.

The tour lasted nearly three hours and included visits to each part of the city, with Parker explaining just how much growth has taken place in the last couple of years.

“I wanted our board and media to see the explosive growth that is occurring within the city of Madison and how it affects Madison City Schools," Parker said. "The growth is explosive, and we wanted to put a visual with the actual numbers.”

While there has been some growth in the landlocked eastern portion of the city, the vast majority has occurred in the western part, where the sprawling city has reached further and further into Limestone County.

Parker's tour went through several new neighborhoods where houses are under construction. Parker stressed the completed houses, and even those under construction, are only a small portion of what is to come. He pointed out fields behind the houses under construction, where the neighborhoods will stretch out to and possibly include hundreds more houses.

“There are about 3,300 homes ready to be built in Madison,” Parker said. “That is just the ones that are for sure going to be built. That doesn't include any future possible annexations or neighborhoods. When Madison became a school system in 1998, we had about 5,000 students. Now there are more than 12,000 students.”

Of those 12,000 students, approximately 2,500 come from Madison-annexed Limestone County, Parker said.

That growth has pushed the schools to their population breaking point. Parker said every school in the district is at least at 90% capacity, with some schools near or at 100% capacity.

There are 700 more new students expected in the school system for the 2019–2020 school year.

“If we grow in elementary as much as we did last year, every elementary school will be full capacity in 2020,” Parker said. “We gained over 600 students last school year, and we already have over 700 new students enrolled in Madison City Schools this year.”

Parker is pushing for a 12-mill property tax increase, which would be used to build a new elementary school, a new middle school and increase student capacity at James Clements High School and at Bob Jones High by 500 seats each. It would also add new safety and security measures to each school in the district.

Parker said if the tax is not approved, it could have disastrous consequences for the school system. He said the system is already using teacher workrooms as classrooms and could have to start using gymnasiums and auditoriums as classrooms as well due to the lack of space.

He said Madison City Schools is also ranked 132 out of 137 school systems in number of students per teacher, which is something he said he “is not proud of.”

While Madison has usually grown at a steady rate of 200–300 people per year, Parker said everyone was caught off guard by the sudden growth in the past two years. With the new Mazda-Toyota Manufacturing plant opening soon, it could lead to even greater numbers.

“Last year, when it grew by 600 students, it was shocking,” Parker said. “We did not anticipate that. ... The new normal is going to be 500–700 students per year, maybe even more. That is something we are going to have to plan for.”

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