Education

Find out which 21 Wake County schools could have enrollment caps next year

From left at foreground table, Wendell Elementary School first graders Tierra Thompson, Cameron Pounds and Silas Lucas measure paper with paper clips in homeroom teacher Jenny Richards' class on May 15, 2015. Wake County school administrators are recommending placing enrollment caps on 21 schools for the 2018-19 school year, including Wendell Elementary.
From left at foreground table, Wendell Elementary School first graders Tierra Thompson, Cameron Pounds and Silas Lucas measure paper with paper clips in homeroom teacher Jenny Richards' class on May 15, 2015. Wake County school administrators are recommending placing enrollment caps on 21 schools for the 2018-19 school year, including Wendell Elementary. News & Observer file photo

Twenty-one Wake County schools might not accept newly arriving families next year as North Carolina’s largest school system continues to deal with new state-mandated class sizes.

Wake school administrators recommended Wednesday placing enrollment caps on 15 elementary schools for the 2018-19 school year due to the state lowering the number of students who can be in kindergarten through third-grade classes next year. Enrollment caps are also recommended for four high schools and two middle schools next school year.

“This exercise is just re-emphasizing the challenge that the class-size mandate is creating for our families and with their satisfaction with their public school system,” school board member Bill Fletcher, chairman of the facilities committee, said Wednesday.

“It should be stated that charter schools don’t have that mandate. They can organize at any level that they want to.”

Enrollment caps are a way for the school system to try to shift the burden of growth, which brings around 2,000 new students a year, onto newcomers instead of existing families.

In addition to the usual challenges of growth, Wake also has to deal with how the average K-3 class size in North Carolina will drop to roughly 17 students starting next school year. The average was 21 students this past school year.

New families who move into the attendance area of a capped school could be denied seats if a specific enrollment total is reached. In that situation, families who move in after the cap went into effect are offered seats at a school that is farther away but has more space.

Board members said they’re concerned that the overflow schools may not have enough space. They’re also concerned that in some cases the capped students could be sent to schools that are on a different calendar than the one families planned to attend.

“These are difficult decisions for staff to make with regards to where do we have available space that are proximate and don’t put too much of a burden on transportation,” said Glenn Carrozza, senior director of student assignment.

Administrators want to place new enrollment caps on Reedy Creek Middle School in Cary, Rogers Lane Elementary in Raleigh, Scotts Ridge Elementary in Apex and Wendell Elementary. Rogers Lane opened in August and is already getting classroom trailers in addition to potentially being capped.

“I’m stunned to see Rogers Lane being capped,” said school board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner. “It’s frustrating. We missed something. I’m not pointing fingers.”

Staff want to continue the caps that were approved in October at Baileywick, Combs, Harris Creek and Sycamore Creek elementary schools in Raleigh; Vance Elementary near Garner; Carpenter Elementary in Cary; Olive Chapel Elementary in Apex; and Willow Springs Elementary. Wake took the unusual step of capping those schools in the middle of the school year to help them get their numbers down before the new class sizes go into effect.

Administrators also want to continue the caps at nine other schools: Cedar Fork Elementary in Morrisville; Fuquay-Varina High and Fuquay-Varina Elementary; Holly Grove Elementary in Holly Springs; Panther Creek High, Mills Park Middle and Mills Park Elementary in Cary; Enloe High in Raleigh and Heritage High in Wake Forest.

But administrators recommend dropping the enrollment cap next school year at Apex Middle School. The cap could also be dropped at Enloe depending on whether the board approves some additional student assignment changes that will be recommended.

Enrollment caps are just one of the ways that elementary schools in Wake are trying to get their class sizes down to meet the new state requirements. Many schools plan to take steps such as converting art and music spaces to regular classrooms, putting two classes in the same room and increasing class sizes to more than 29 students in fourth- and fifth-grades.

“The legislation is killing us,” said school board member Jim Martin.

Other changes include:

▪ Closing 25 elementary schools to new transfer students;

▪ Reducing how many new magnet students are accepted into Combs, Douglas, Hunter, Joyner, Kingswood and Wendell elementary schools;

▪ Reducing how many new year-round students are accepted into Brier Creek, Carpenter, Oak Grove and Sycamore Creek elementary schools.

The school board is also looking at reassigning some elementary school students to different schools next year. The full school board will review the enrollment cap recommendations on Tuesday and could approve them and the assignment plan on Dec. 5.

School districts around the state are lobbying state lawmakers to delay the new K-3 class sizes, but it’s uncertain if state lawmakers will make any changes.

“We need more facilities or we need relief from this new 17-student class size mandate, or both,” said Fletcher, the board member.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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