Some local business leaders said they wanted to know how some Wake County schools became so crowded that the district needed to place enrollment caps on them.
Wake County school board member Susan Evans and N.C. Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam offered different explanations during an event hosted by the Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
Evans said the school system doesn’t have enough money to build schools at a rate that keeps up with population growth. The caps are a way of offering assignment stability for families who are already enrolled at capped schools.
Stam, an Apex Republican, described the caps as “self-inflicted” wounds that could be avoided.
“If you didn’t attempt to micro-manage where families sent their kids, you would have a lot less trouble with this whole problem,” Stam told Evans.
The school district’s student assignment policies have long been political. Republicans have argued that busing for socio-economic diversity doesn’t improve academic achievement.
Stam’s comments on Wednesday come amid growing concern that enrollment caps are hurting the local real-estate market.
The Wake school board capped 20 schools for the 2014-15 school year – including Holly Springs’ only high school and each of the town’s three elementary schools.
Students who moved into the assignment area of a capped school after March 4 aren’t guaranteed a seat at that school.
The Cary Town Council recently reached out to Wake school board members to talk about whether caps are worth the “consternation” they create.
The Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce hosted Stam and Evans to “open up an ongoing dialogue” about education issues, said LeeAnn Plumer, the chamber’s director.
“The chamber has heard that education is a specific interest of our businesses,” Plumer said.
Wednesday’s hour-long event was cordial and informative but awkward at times. Stam and Evans sat together and shared a microphone on stage at the Holly Springs Cultural Center.
One developer, who didn’t identify himself, complained that children who move to the 60-lot subdivision that he’s building next to Holly Grove Elementary will likely be assigned to schools in Fuquay-Varina.
“How do you guarantee that, in the future, the kids that could walk to those schools can get into those schools and not be continuously bused to other areas?” he asked.
The quickest fix is more schools, said Joe Desormeaux, an assistant superintendent.
“We established a need of 40 schools by 2020. We’re not building anywhere near that,” he said.
“What we’re building is what we can afford at this time,” he continued. “That’s what ends up resulting in students … being bused further and further away to other schools.”
Evans explained that the Republican-led Wake County Board of Commissioners is in charge of funding new schools.
“I want to be clear: I’m not pushing that I think the school board needs taxing authority,” she said. “I just want you to understand the context of which we operate.”
Wake County residents will likely need to pass another bond referendum in 2016 or 2017 to fund more new schools, she said.