ZCS is Ahead of the Growth Curve and Poised for the Future
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Submitted
With all the buzz about new housing developments being proposed and slated in Zionsville and Whitestown, there has been some chatter about how prepared the Zionsville Community School (ZCS) district really is for the imminent growth of its student body (currently at 7,000), specifically within its elementary schools where the new developments will be located.
We sat down with ZCS superintendent Dr. Scott Robison, CFO Michael (Mike) Shafer and COO Rebecca Coffman to discuss what strategies the district has been utilizing to predict and plan for the growth – and not just over the course of a year or two but for the next several years.
Robison stated that the district continues to work with the Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC) at the IU Kelley School of Business. IBRC completed an updated demographic study last June and, according to Robison and his team, has been almost “supernaturally” accurate in terms of the district’s actual total enrollment for this year (6,986 projected versus 6,983 actual count).
“The IBRC has been extremely accurate for many years and has been tracking our growth for 20 years,” Robison said. “Becky [Coffman] chaired the Comprehensive Facilities Study two to three years ago, and that [study] has been constantly renewed as we’ve done things to help ensure that our buildings are ready.”
Coffman added, “There is a link to the most recent demographic study on our website. We utilize this information, and as Dr. Robison said, it [the study] is exceptionally accurate. Every spring, we look at our staffing needs at each level. We look at what these projections indicate about our growth with new residential developments coming online and the typical ins-and-outs that we have every year. The study has been a comprehensive planning tool to look at not just the following year but at where we will be in four. We have to map out the pathway to be prepared for that time.”
Robison explained that the district will need additional space in the not-so-distant future based on the projections that include new developments, such as the Holiday Property and new developments in West Zionsville.
“The fact of the matter is we will need new space,” Robison stated. “We know that, and we are projecting for that. In January, we’ll have some comprehensive meetings with our board to discuss our recommendations for the future based on this [demographic] study, the facilities study and the financial work that Mike [Shafer] does for the district, and we will hopefully move forward with our planning.”
As the district’s CFO, Shafer is tasked with the arduous work of overseeing its financial goals and strategies. With a new legislative session underway, Shafer remains hopeful that new measures will be taken to raise ZCS out of its current classification.
“As the lowest funded [district] in the state, we would love to see something happen during this legislative session that would get us closer to the average,” Shafer shared. “Until that time, we are heavily dependent on the local referendum that is supporting somewhere north of 30 percent of our total teaching staff.”
Shafer emphasized that the current state of the district’s finances are “stable” but admitted that the continued growth of student enrollment will obviously continue to impact the district.
“The continued growth does stretch us at the seams a bit in a variety of ways,” Shafer said. “Part of our planning is strategic programming, strategic finance, looking at when will we need a new building and at what point in time do we begin the process. How does that look to our board, and how will that look to the taxpayers?”
When asked how soon the district would need a new building, Shafer replied, “I’d say we’re three to five years at most. Within the next year, you’ll see us looking at the first steps towards that.”
Robison and his team spent a great deal of time visiting the district’s elementary schools and producing podcasts sharing the demographics study and their recommendations as well as at board meetings to ensure that the board and the public have access to the information and are well-informed about the current and future status of the district in terms of its growth.
“We preliminarily stated last spring that in the 2022-2024 timeframe, we have to have another elementary school,” Robison stated. “We’ve been planning very intensively, and when we talked at Stonegate [Elementary] and out west, people were like, ‘I get it,’ and were very cordial to us. It was a story that resonated well, and we’re hoping that we did a bit of education with those efforts and we will continue with those efforts.”
Visit zcs.k12.in.us for aforementioned demographic studies.