Southwest Wake News

Some Cary parents push for student reassignment

Wake County school board member Susan Evans speaks to parents and teachers during a board advisory council meeting at Mills Park Middle School on Sept. 22.
Wake County school board member Susan Evans speaks to parents and teachers during a board advisory council meeting at Mills Park Middle School on Sept. 22. aspecht@newsobserver.com

Some Cary parents say they want the Wake County school board to ease crowded schools through student reassignments, a practice that drew disdain from families throughout the county for years.

The school board recently decided to spend $530,000 to install five classroom trailers at Mills Park elementary and middle schools, where enrollment is capped, as a stopgap measure for addressing overcrowding.

But residential development is in full swing in western Cary, and school officials told a group of parents and teachers on Monday that they don’t see the trailers or school caps as long-term solutions.

“We still have a problem,” Laura Evans, Wake’s senior director of student assignment, said at a board advisory council meeting at Mills Park Middle.

Parents who attended Monday’s meeting said they view a well-thought-out student reassignment plan as the best way to ensure western Cary parents can send their kids to the nearest schools.

“I think you’re going to have to move neighborhood assignments around,” said Cindy Sinkez, whose son attends Panther Creek High School.

Enrollment caps are unpopular for a number of reasons. Families who move into the attendance zone of a school that is capped are usually sent to another less-crowded school.

Real-estate agents claim the caps hurt local home values as a result, which makes Cary leaders worry about a slowdown in economic development.

The school board considered converting the Mills Park schools from a traditional to a year-round calendar, but the idea wasn’t popular. More than 200 people marched in opposition to a proposal earlier this month.

Meanwhile, classroom trailers are expensive. The school board could have lifted enrollment caps at the Mills Park schools by adding 21 classroom trailers to the campus – but that would have cost at least $2 million.

Parent Julea Danielson said the school board should consider creating a reassignment plan that limits enrollment at Cary schools west of N.C. 55 to students who live on that side of the highway.

She noted that Mills Park Middle accepts students from Brier Creek Elementary, which is located 10 miles away in Raleigh. Pine Hollow Middle is scheduled to open in northwest Raleigh for the 2016-17 school year, but it’s unclear how many students it would pull from Mills Park.

“There are seats available at other Cary middle schools,” Danielson said. “Fill them.”

School system administrators are currently focused on tweaking the student assignment plan for 2015-16 – which mostly affects Apex, North Raleigh and Wake Forest – but they may look at redistricting parts of western Cary in future years, Evans said.

But it’s unclear whether school board members would support reassignment across an entire region of the county.

Student reassignment has been controversial in recent years as Wake County has tried to make way for thousands of new students.

The school board passed several massive reassignment plans in the mid-2000s to accommodate high growth rates, but it upset parents so much that they voted to oust the Democratic school board majority in 2009.

School board member Susan Evans, who represents parts of Cary, spoke at Monday’s meeting about the challenges facing the Mills Park schools.

The situation at Mills Park Elementary is expected to improve after new elementary schools are built in the coming years. But the school system isn’t expected to open a middle school in Cary until 2019.

Susan Evans said she would prefer to reduce overcrowding by encouraging attendance at under-enrolled schools – such as West Cary Middle, which is in central Cary, and East Cary Middle – by giving them special programs or making them magnet schools.

“Once we get past the 2015-2016 school year, nothing is off the table,” she said. “We’ll be looking at all kinds of things in the future.”

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