Mills Park Elementary School has been in demand since it opened in 2008, generating top academic scores and a waiting list of western Cary families who want to get their children into the popular school.
Wake County student assignment staff want to move more than 200 students from parts of several neighborhoods to the new Hortons Creek Elementary to reduce crowding at Mills Park. But the proposal has generated strong opposition from families in the Blackstone at Amberly neighborhood and the northern part of the Cary Park neighborhood who want to stay at Mills Park Elementary.
The Wake County school board will meet Tuesday to discuss potential changes to the 2017-18 student assignment plan. Board members will balance recommendations from their staff and the arguments made by the Cary parents.
“We’re all caught in this bind as we’re opening a new elementary school, and we can’t keep asking to build new schools and not fill’em up,” school board Chairman Tom Benton said at the Nov. 15 student assignment public hearing.
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“We do have a school at Mills Park that is severely overcrowded, and all the projections that we look at show that that is going to continue for the next three to five years if we don’t do something to move some students out of there.”
But the Blackstone and Cary Park parents say Mills Park has shown it can function effectively at its current enrollment of 1,050 students.
“Everyone likes to have small classes,” said Qiao Xu, a Mills Park parent, in an interview. “However, the school is capable of having more than 1,000 students. Everything is fine. It’s not like it’s crippled.”
Mills Park Elementary is in one of the fastest-growing parts of Wake County. The school has been under an enrollment cap for nearly four years, meaning new families who have moved into its attendance area after December 2012 haven’t been guaranteed seats at Mills Park.
School administrators say 182 students are capped out of Mills Park and attend schools that have more space but are further away.
Even with the enrollment restrictions, Mills Park is one of Wake County’s largest elementary schools. It has more students than three North Carolina school systems.
Mills Park’s campus capacity, which includes all its trailers, is 920 students. But Laura Evans, Wake’s senior director of student assignment, said they eventually want to reduce enrollment to 846 students. That figure is the planned capacity, which is how many students the building is designed to handle.
“With our area so densely populated and so many families and kids here, we feel it’s not a realistic goal to squeeze it down to that number,” Xu said of the 846-student figure.
Mills Park parents have pointed to how Wake’s own figures show the crowding will drop, even if the Blackstone and Cary Park students don’t move. They also cite projections that indicate Hortons Creek Elementary could become more crowded than Mills Park in a few years.
“We want logic,” parent Brad Hall told the school board on Nov. 15. “We want reason, and the numbers that are shown in front of you seem to make sense to keep us at Mills Park.”
But student assignment staff point to other concerns. They say they will need to leave the cap on indefinitely if the Blackstone and Cary Park children stay.
Benton, the board chairman, told parents that the board will try to make the best decision for the school system.
“We really do all have hearts,” Benton said. “We don’t just look at numbers. We know the angst that it’s causing parents and children when you’re looking at possibly having to move schools.”
Database editor David Raynor contributed.