News of the Wake County school board’s capping decisions last week came as a relief to many – especially Holly Springs – but did little to quell concerns of some Cary leaders and real estate agents.
The school board on Jan. 20 decided to place enrollment caps on 10 schools for the upcoming 2015-16 school year due to crowding. A decision on capping Enloe High in Raleigh could come next month. There are currently caps on 20 Wake County schools.
The board removed caps on three of four Holly Springs schools that now have caps: Holly Ridge Elementary, Holly Springs Elementary and Holly Springs High. Holly Grove Elementary will keep its cap.
“It’s a huge deal,” said Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears, who lobbied to get the caps removed. “The main thing that it changes is the perception for people coming into town looking for a house.”
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In Cary, the board maintained caps on Mills Park Elementary and Mills Park Middle and removed a cap on Alston Ridge Elementary.
But it added to the town’s total number of capped schools by placing new caps on Cary Elementary, Davis Drive Middle and Panther Creek High.
“It’s disappointing to have the caps imposed,” said Cary councilwoman Jennifer Robinson. “I think it brings new anxiety to existing citizens as well as another group of people, prospective home owners.”
Students who move into the assignment area of a capped school after Jan. 20 are not guaranteed a seat at that school. Typically, a student is accepted or turned away based on how many seats are available in his or her grade level.
Mills Park Elementary and Mills Park Middle, which have caps this year, blocked a total of 237 students from enrolling as of Dec. 19, according to data released by the county.
Real estate agents say the uncertainty sometimes turns potential home buyers away from neighborhoods near capped schools, thus driving down local home values.
“It’s horrible. Horrible,” said Nancy Caggia, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway and former school board candidate, of the recent capping decision.
Caggia said she would prefer that the school system block enrollment at capped schools based on when a student’s house was built rather than when a student moves into the school’s assignment area.
In theory, a local school’s enrollment stays about the same if a family moves out and another moves in, she said.
“Don’t penalize the poor family that moved into an existing house,” Caggia said. “That’s just mean.”
If people are concerned about caps slowing residential growth, implementing Caggia’s suggested strategy would only exacerbate the problem, said Bill Fletcher, a school board member who represents Cary.
“One of the concerns people have about capping is its effects on the construction business,” Fletcher said. “But I can’t think of a better way to shut down the construction business than to implement the practice people are suggesting.”
Fletcher, a real estate agent for Keller Williams, said he hasn’t seen the caps have any effect on the local housing market.
“I had a real estate agent write me to say that she had sold three homes in the Mills Park area,” he said.
“There may be individuals who felt like they’ve been hurt by it,” he said. “But folks are still wanting to build in western Wake, even though we have caps.”
The Cary Town Council knows of developers’ interests all too well.
Residential development has been outpacing the construction of infrastructure and schools in west Cary. In November, the council tabled a project that would have brought 130 more homes to the area, partially because the local schools are capped.
At the time, Robinson said each new development proposal for west Cary would face “harsh scrutiny” until Wake commissioners and the school board come up with a plan to build more schools in the area. The Wake school system isn’t scheduled to open a new middle school in west Cary until 2019 and or a high school until 2018.
While plans to address the issue remain unclear, Robinson said she’s optimistic newly elected county commissioners will find a way to expedite school construction.
“What we’re asking is that they’re sympathetic to parents impacted and the municipalities that are doing their best to make this a great place to live, work and play,” she said.