Bob and Mary Patel became more fond of a 2,300-square-foot house in Morrisville the more a real estate agent showed them around.
The living room was spacious, the kitchen had nice countertops, and a back deck offered seclusion from an otherwise dense neighborhood.
Then they found out about the local school situation.
Cedar Fork Elementary, a mile down the street from the house, is capped because of crowding. Students who move in would likely be sent to Carpenter or Weatherstone elementaries, which are a little farther away.
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The Patels don’t have young children. But the cap was a dealbreaker nonetheless.
“When we buy a house, we look at it as an investment. We think about resale value,” Mary Patel said. “If the kids cannot go to school here, I will not buy here.”
Local real estate agents say the housing market has been hurting in parts of Raleigh, Holly Springs and western Wake ever since the county’s education leaders capped schools in those areas.
The number of capped schools for the 2014-15 school year – 20 – is the most in the district’s history.
Students who moved into the assignment area of a capped school after March 4 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 grade level.
So far, a total of 213 students have been turned away from 12 capped schools, according to Wake schools spokeswoman Lisa Luten. Some schools haven’t needed to turn students away.
Regardless, the caps “have an adverse impact on a lot of people,” said Mark Parker, a vice president and sales manager for Fonville Morisey who’s based in Raleigh.
Nine of the capped schools are in Raleigh, four are in western Wake, and four are in Holly Springs.
In many cases, alternative schools are nearby.
For instance, if elementary school-aged students move into John Wilson’s Cary house, they will likely be assigned to Turner Creek Elementary about 5 miles away.
But the elementary schools nearest to Wilson’s house – Mills Park and Alston Ridge – are capped, and Wilson said interest in his house has dwindled. So he opted to take his house off the market earlier this month “to get more clarity on the school situation going forward,” he said.
Abbotts Creek Elementary is expected to open on Durant Road in Raleigh for the 2015-2016 school year.
Otherwise, relief isn’t expected to come for at least two years.
The school system plans to open one elementary school in Raleigh, one elementary school in Holly Springs and two elementary schools in Cary for the 2016-2017 school year.
Town leaders hope to address the issue by offering certainty to homebuyers.
The Cary Town Council invited school board member Bill Fletcher, who works as a real estate agent, to its meeting last Thursday with hopes of opening a dialogue about the issue with school leaders.
Compared with other methods of tempering overcrowding – such as tightening student assignment boundaries or putting more schools on a year-round calendar – the caps provide more stability for families with students already enrolled in crowded schools, Fletcher said.
Cary councilwoman Jennifer Robinson, also a real estate agent, said she wants to explore whether the school system can prevent crowding without “penalizing homeowners.”
She wonders if the school board could help longtime residents by blocking enrollment at capped schools based on when a student’s house was built, rather than when a student moved into the school’s assignment area.
Her thinking is that a capped school’s enrollment remains about the same if one student’s family moves away and another family moves into the same house.
“My interest in this is not intended to be adversarial,” Robinson said. “My hope is that the school board would take a look at data and determine if the capping is as effective as it needs to be to justify the consternation it creates.”
Christine Kushner, the school board chairwoman, said she’d welcome those who want to help the board work toward better solutions, but cautioned: “We can only do what we can with the resources we have.”
The Wake County Board of Commissioners is in charge of funding the Wake County school system and building new education facilities.
County commissioners are expected to vote Aug. 4 on whether to put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters’ permission to raise sales taxes by a quarter-cent to increase funding for education.
The measure is expected to fail because Republicans, who are in the majority on the board, don’t support it. They’ve said they don’t want to overburden taxpayers after approving a 4.4-cent property tax increase to fund school construction earlier this year.
Residential construction has outpaced school construction for years. But now that the situation has the potential to hurt growth in certain areas, some wish the school board had more control over acquiring resources.
“It comes down to a lack of appropriate funding,” said Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears. “Maybe the school board should have taxing authority.”
Price of success
Until the issue is addressed, Walter Fike thinks he’ll see more and more families walk away from homes in Holly Springs, where each of the town’s three elementary schools is capped.
The alternatives are in Fuquay-Varina. His team at Weichert Realtors has already served nine families who snubbed houses in Holly Springs after finding out about the caps.
“It’s the price we’re paying for success,” Fike said.
“When you have magazines saying we’re some of the best places to raise families, that’s great. But along with that comes overcrowding of facilities,” he said. “And it doesn’t look like it will get better anytime soon.”