The Wake County school board could convert Mills Park elementary and middle schools to a multitrack year-round calendar.
Or it could spend at least $2 million to install classroom trailers on the campus – a move that would deplete the school system’s trailer budget for the next two years.
The Mills Park schools in Cary are so crowded that they have enrollment caps in place. Families who moved into the attendance area after March 4 are sent to other schools with more space.
The caps are causing consternation among residents and real-estate agents who say they’re hurting home values. Cary town leaders who fear the caps will slow economic development have questioned whether the practice is effective at maintaining a healthy educational atmosphere for students.
Many Mills Park parents have said they don’t want to switch to a year-round calendar.
With those concerns known, school administrators on Tuesday presented the school board with options to reduce overcrowding.
While administrators recommended converting Alston Ridge Elementary in Cary to a multitrack year-round calendar, they avoided making a specific recommendation for the Mills Park schools.
The most feasible option to reduce overcrowding without converting the calendars at the Mills Park schools would be to add classroom trailers, said Joe Desormeaux, assistant superintendent for facilities. But it would be costly.
Desormeaux said it would cost $800,000 to install more trailers at Mills Park Elementary and $1.15 million at Mills Park Middle, plus an annual lease of $65,000. The trailers would be placed on the schools’ athletic fields.
The money for the trailers would come from a special budget meant to fund trailer installation at schools across the county. If the school board added trailers to Mills Park, it wouldn’t have money in the trailer budget to address needs at other Wake schools until 2016, according to school administrators.
Desormeaux said there would also be other costs, such as compensating Cary for the loss of portions of the schools’ athletic fields, amenities that the town helped fund.
But Desormeaux said an even bigger cost would accompany the road improvements that Cary would likely require to deal with extra traffic. He said the district has paid $1 million in road improvements each of the last two times more trailers were added to schools in Cary.
School board member Jim Martin said that the board should ask Cary to waive any fees because the district would be responding to what the town’s parents want.
He said the district is also being forced to deal with the growth that the town has permitted in the area.
“We can’t bear all the cost,” Martin said. “We don’t have the resources and revenue to bear the cost.”
Cary Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson, a critic of the school enrollment caps, said she isn’t opposed to Martin’s request but said she wants to avoid setting a precedent for waiving fees for county projects.
“It’s something we should look at seriously,” she said. “The challenge is that, technically, it would be our taxpayers supporting the school system rather than using county funds for county business.”
Most school board members didn’t weigh in on the Mills Park options during Tuesday’s work session.
“People are seeing the hard choices that are going to have to be made at some point,” school board vice chairman Tom Benton said. “Nobody is going to be happy with this.”
Susan Evans, who represents Mills Park, said she’ll push for solutions at Mills Park that don’t include changing the calendar.
“I get the impression that the majority of the people would rather do anything than have this calendar conversion,” she said.
“They’re already ready to attack,” she continued. “They feel like here we go again, jerking them around. There’s just so much negative emotion, particularly from the Mills Park community, about us even contemplating such a change.”
Meanwhile, school board member Keith Sutton said “the numbers really sort of speak for themselves.”
“We’ve just got to step up and make some tough decisions,” he said.
The school board is expected to decide on calendar options for five schools Sept. 16.