Susan Stines has a daughter in the ninth grade at Panther Creek High School and a son in the sixth grade at Mills Park Middle School in Cary. If the middle school is converted to a year-round calendar, she says, her kids would have only nine days of summer vacation together.
“That’s not OK,” Stines said.
She was among 200 parents and students who marched about a mile to Mills Park elementary and middle schools Thursday morning to protest proposed calendar changes that the school board is expected to vote on Tuesday.
Thursday morning, drivers honked and waved as they passed sign-wielding protesters who walked down a sidewalk on Green Level Church Road.
“Keep our schools trad-i-tion-al,” some chanted.
To ease crowding at the Mills Park schools, the board could install multiple classroom trailers and keep the traditional calendar.
Or it could convert the schools to a multitrack year-round calendar. Many parents say they don’t like that idea because nearby high schools operate on a traditional calendar.
It would also be the third calendar change for Mills Park Elementary School since it opened in 2008. The school originally operated on a year-round schedule and was converted to a traditional calendar in 2010.
“I won’t be able to take family vacations,” said John Ludenia II, who has a son that will go to high school next year and a daughter who attends Mills Park Elementary.
“We feel defeated and beaten down,” said Laura Flack, who has a child at Mills Park Middle School.
“I do not envy the board. There’s a lot of growth in the area,” she said. “I just want them to respect the people.”
The Mills Park schools are so crowded that the school board placed enrollment caps on them in March. Families that move to the area are usually assigned to schools with more space.
Real-estate agents have claimed the caps hurt home values, and Cary town leaders worry they will slow economic development.
The school board could likely lift the caps at the Mills Park schools by converting the calendar or installing classroom trailers – but neither option is popular.
Money for the trailers would deplete a special budget meant to fund trailer installation at schools across the county until 2016, according to school administrators.
They have said Wake would also owe Cary $65,000 a year to lease space to put trailers on the schools’ athletic fields. There would also be costs associated with road improvements the town would require from the school district to accommodate the extra traffic.
Although parents support the idea of installing classroom trailers at the Mills Park schools, they’re skeptical it would fix the crowding.
Some, like Charles Wang, said the school board should consider everything from redistricting to re-prioritizing its schedule for building new schools.
The school district isn’t expected to open a middle school in the area until 2016.
“The current options don’t fix the bigger problem,” said Wang, who has a child at Mills Park Middle.
Others, such as Beth Luneke, think state lawmakers should grant municipalities more power to address the issue.
“More than ever I am hearing people say they’re not so sure about (living in) this area anymore,” said Luneke, whose daughter attends Mills Park Elementary School.
Towns should be allowed to deny building permits based on enrollment at local schools, she said. Or they should be allowed to charge developers fees that would go toward the construction of new schools.
Cary used to charge what were known as “impact fees.” After developers sued the town, the N.C. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that Cary didn’t have the legal authority to require developers to pay such fees.