Residents and elected officials in some of Wake County’s fastest-growing towns had mixed reactions to a district proposal that may place enrollment caps on 19 schools next year while lifting caps on nine others.
Schools planners announced at a facilities committee meeting last week that they might remove caps at 10 schools, keep caps on 10 schools and place new caps on nine schools. The full school board will consider the enrollment caps at a Dec. 2 work session, with a vote expected Dec. 16.
Children in families who move into a capped school’s attendance zone aren’t guaranteed admission to that school. Often, those children are required to attend a school farther away from their new home.
Real estate agents have said the caps hurt local home values, and elected officials in Holly Springs and Cary have lobbied against them for fear the caps would hinder economic development.
Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears said residents in his town would be “big winners” if district planners carried through with a possible plan to lift caps at two of the town’s three elementary schools – Holly Springs and Holly Ridge – and Holly Springs High, its only high school.
Only Holly Grove Elementary would keep its enrollment cap under a plan officials are considering.
The county may lift caps at the two Holly Springs elementary schools because the schools aren’t as crowded as district planners expected them to be, said Wake schools spokesman Matt Dees. The county may be able to allow more students from the schools’ base attendance zones in anticipation that there will be fewer students choosing them as their calendar option schools, he said.
The county will likely be able to lift the cap at Holly Springs High because Apex Friendship High is expected to draw some Holly Springs students when it opens next year. Apex Friendship High is expected to pull at least 179 rising 10th-graders from Holly Springs High, according to district planners.
Capping “is a potentially serious issue in a town that’s growing as fast as ours,” Sears said. “It sounds like we’re making progress and that’s good news.”
But some Cary officials were less pleased with the possible enrollment caps.
The school system may lift the cap at Alston Ridge Elementary, but is likely to leave caps at Mills Park Elementary and Mills Park Middle and could add caps to Cary Elementary and Panther Creek High.
The Mills Park schools had enrollment caps last year. Principals of Cary Elementary and Panther Creek High requested the caps due to crowding.
Cary councilwoman Jennifer Robinson, a critic of enrollment caps, said the continued school crowding demonstrates the need for the Wake County Board of Commissioners to act quickly in order to build schools at a pace that matches growth across the county.
“It’s very stressful for families to have caps imposed,” Robinson said. “That goes for people living in the area, people moving into the area and people trying to sell homes,” she said.
Nancy Caggia, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway, said enrollment caps cause consternation for potential home buyers. She now lists “WCPSS,” the school system’s initials, as the local school when presenting a house that’s located near a capped school.
She explains to prospective home buyers that students who move into the attendance zone of a capped school can sometimes attend if they call the school to learn whether there are available seats at the needed grade level.
“That tends to be overwhelming for people just coming into the area,” she said.
Caggia hopes the school system will reconsider its capping rules so that a family who moves into a home in an established neighborhood can attend the same school as the children in the family that moved out.
“I don’t really think it’s fair that the next person who moves into a house that was once occupied by a student can’t go to the same school,” she said.
Mills Park Elementary, Mills Park Middle and Panther Creek High are all located in west Cary – where residential development has recovered from the recession so rapidly that residents frequently email the Cary Town Council to complain about it.
Anne Rodgers of Talton Ridge Drive is one of the residents who has written emails to point out the crowded schools and roads. One of her children attends Mills Park Middle.
While she’s upset that overcrowding is getting worse, she thinks adding caps might be the only way to inspire dramatic action from county commissioners, school board members and Cary Council members.
“It’s a necessary evil at this point,” she said.