Cary growth too much for overcrowded schools
Posted April 24, 2014
Updated April 25, 2014
Cary, N.C. — Town residents are concerned over how Cary’s growth has led to overcrowding in area schools.
Residents voiced their worries during a Thursday night town council meeting, where council members considered a zoning request to increase the density of homes within a proposed housing development along Green Hope School Road.
A petition to stop the request garnered more than 200 signatures.
"It is certainly a valid concern, especially in west Cary where things are growing rapidly," Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said.
The council, at the developer’s suggestion, voted 5-2 to table the request.
But development and school overcrowding remains a hot issue in the western Wake County town.
Population boom causes overcrowding
Cary, often ranked among the country’s best places to live, has seen its population grow by 53 percent in 13 years, from 94,563 in 2000 to 144,982 in 2013.
“We need a breather,” town councilman Jack Smith said during the meeting. “We have got to slow down the pace of building.”
Such growth is apparent in neighborhoods like Highcroft, where hundreds of houses are under construction near Highcroft Drive Elementary – currently operating at 114 percent of intended capacity.
Mills Park Elementary, located nearly three miles from Highcroft Elementary, is at 108 percent. Mills Park Middle, located across from Mills Park Elementary, is at 112 percent.
“We kind of need everyone to get together and say, ‘How does what we do here affect these different areas?’” said Scott Hoyt, a Highcroft resident who recently started an online petition asking town leaders to be smarter about growth. “The schools, public safety, traffic. That’s what we’re kind of unhappy about.”
Public safety and traffic are considered in Cary growth decisions, but school population is not.
“It is actually illegal to say that there is adequate schools before things can be approved,” said Weinbrecht, the Cary mayor, during Thursday’s meeting.
Raleigh city officials look at school enrollment when considering development, city spokeswoman Jayne Kirkpatrick said.
Wake school board members approved a new enrollment capping plan for the 2014-15 school year to help limit overcrowding. Enrollment caps were upheld at seven schools, including:
- Mills Park Elementary, where enrollment has grown by 16.9 percent over the past four years
- Cedar Fork Elementary in Morrisville, where enrollment has grown by 27.1 percent over the past four years
Enrollment caps were enacted at 10 schools under the plan, including Holly Grove Elementary in Holly Springs, where enrollment has grown by 30 percent over the past four years.
Board members also approved the removal of Highcroft Elementary as an overflow school for Mills Park Elementary.
School leaders anticipate 20,000 more students in Wake County schools by 2018, which is why school board members and county commissioners successfully pushed for an $810 million school construction bond in 2013. The measure passed due to support from Raleigh and western Wake County voters.
The majority of bond funds - $533.75 million - will pay for eight new schools and the purchase of eight additional parcels of land for future schools. Most of the new schools and proposed land purchases are in western Wake County.
School board members have moved forward with expansion efforts, voting in November to purchase a 22.38 acre of land in southwest Cary for $2.7 million for a future elementary school.
But even with the enrollment caps and new buildings, school construction is not keeping up with residential construction, said school board member Bill Fletcher, who added that more revenue is needed.
“It probably does mean higher taxes,” he said.