ST. PETERSBURG — Amid a long line of speakers who wanted to have their say at the most recent School Board meeting, a small group of Maximo Elementary teachers waited quietly to take their turn.
Most of the people at last week's meeting wanted to talk about proposed changes to International Baccalaureate programs and plans to combine or move some elementary schools next year. The Maximo group was there for a different reason.
What about us, they asked.
Maximo, they said, isn't scheduled to be closed or moved in the near future. But the school is dealing with another important issue: too many students.
In the past few years, they said, Maximo has seen its student population boom.
"Our school is tremendously overcrowded," second-grade teacher Barbara Shepard told the board.
She said Maximo has more than 700 students enrolled, although the school is built for 500.
The result, teachers said, is that the school has 13 portable classrooms handling the overflow.
One Maximo staff member, exceptional student education specialist Vanessa Byard, told the board the students feel like the portables are in the "boondocks" and don't like having to trek back and forth to the main building.
They also get more restless, she said, and feel like they're separate from the rest of the school.
The overcrowding also has produced other obstacles for teachers.
Because some of the portables aren't equipped with bathrooms, they said, instruction time gets interrupted when students need to use the restroom or visit the main building for another reason.
"They pretty much don't even feel like they're part of our school," Shepard said. "As far as academically … it's kind of like we're setting them up for failure. … That, to me, is unacceptable."
School district officials said they are aware of Maximo's issues and are taking steps to solve them.
"The overcrowding issue is relatively new," Jim Madden, deputy superintendent and chief of staff for Pinellas County schools, said in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times. He added that the district is in its third year of a zoning-based assignment plan. "The issue is scheduled to be addressed as a part of the current proposal that the board is scheduled to vote on in December."
Madden was referring to the student achievement plan proposed by superintendent Julie Janssen a month ago.
"There is a section in the proposal that says that there will need to be some rezoning done for 2011-12," Madden said. "Maximo's issues will be addressed as part of that action."
Region superintendent Barbara Thornton said officials also are working on the bathroom issue at Maximo, which was built about 40 years ago and renovated within the past decade.
"A request had already been put in to have a portable with bathrooms placed in that area, and the process to do that has already started through our facilities and operations office," she said.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643.