Wake Ed

Enrollment limits approved for 15 Wake County schools

Mills Park Middle School sixth graders move through the hallways between periods in Cary, N.C. on May 19, 2015. Mills Park is so crowded that 286 students who live in the school’s attendance area are being sent to other schools that have more space.
Mills Park Middle School sixth graders move through the hallways between periods in Cary, N.C. on May 19, 2015. Mills Park is so crowded that 286 students who live in the school’s attendance area are being sent to other schools that have more space. clowenst@newsobserver.com

The Wake County school board approved approved Tuesday enrollment restrictions that will keep some newly arriving families from attending 15 crowded schools for the 2016-17 school year.

Under the enrollment caps, new families who move into the attendance areas for those 15 schools after Tuesday could be denied seats if specific enrollment totals are reached. In that situation, families who moved in after the cap went into effect would be offered seats at schools that are farther away, but have more space.

Existing enrollment caps will continue at Enloe, Heritage and Panther Creek high schools; Mills Park Middle; and Hodge Road, Holly Grove, Hunter, Mills Park and Walnut Creek elementary schools. School officials say 1,096 students were kept from attending those nine schools this school year because of the capping restrictions.

The caps that are now in place at Cary Elementary and Davis Drive Middle will expire at the end of this school year.

But new enrollment caps are being placed on Fuquay-Varina High School, Apex Middle School and Cedar Fork, Davis Drive, Fuquay-Varina and Wiley elementary schools.

The number of newcomers who could be capped out of Cedar Fork could jump if Morrisville doesn’t approve a request to keep modular units on the campus. The school has 1,032 students now, but the enrollment would be capped at 866 students if the modulars have to be removed compared to 1,044 students if they remain in place.

Enrollment caps are a means for the school system to try to shift the burden of dealing with growth, which brings around 2,000 new students a year, onto newcomers instead of existing families. School board member Bill Fletcher said enrollment caps provide stability for the majority of families for the upcoming school year.

But newcomers often complain when they can’t go to the school near their homes. For instance, families who move into Cedar Fork’s base in Morrisville could be sent to Reedy Creek Elementary in eastern Cary.

“Capping is not an activity that we enjoy,” Fletcher said. “It is however a necessity when buildings become oversubscribed, when the core facilities are stretched beyond reason, and frankly at some point in time it becomes a safety issue when there are more students in a campus facility than it was intended to house.”

Fletcher said the caps also point to the need for more capacity to keep up with growth. The school board and Wake County Board of Commissioners will hold a joint meeting Feb. 3 to discuss how to come up with money for the next round of school construction projects.

Caps are often lifted after new schools open in an area to provide enough additional seats.

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