Cary growth too much for overcrowded schools

Posted April 24, 2014
Updated April 25, 2014

— 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.


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  • miseem Apr 25, 2014

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    The problem with impact fees is that they hit only new construction. Not everyone moving to Wake County buys a new home. And not everyone buying a new home has kids. Example - 60 year old retired couple sells their 4 BR, 3,600 sq ft home in Cary and buys a new 1,600 sq ft condo in Cary. Family moves from PA with 3 kids in school and buys the older couple's home. Which family has the most impact on schools. Or roads and other infrastructure? And which family is being asked to pay impact fees?

  • Greg Boop Apr 25, 2014
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    Well ignoring the fact that a town providing vouchers to send kids to private school or offering to pay parents to home school is against state law.

  • whatelseisnew Apr 25, 2014

    Pretty simple. Cary should offer vouchers to send kids to private school and offer to pay parents to home school. Both those methods are far less expensive than the current foolish method of delivering education.

  • Shamrock Apr 25, 2014

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    If you were so smart wouldn't you have solved the problem by now? Certainly you understand there are many variables at play here, and not being able to retain teachers is one of those variables.

  • Shamrock Apr 25, 2014

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    got that right, most teachers are running away from Wake County.

  • floydthebarber Apr 25, 2014

    It's hard to feel sympathy for town leaders and citizens who bought into unbridled McMansion growth over the past few decades... Cary needs to take a page from more liberal cities like Raleigh where SUSTAINABILITY is a key focus in any development. Of course roads, schools, sewer, etc. all need to be in place BEFORE allowing terribly ugly urban sprawl to commence.

  • Hippy_mom Apr 25, 2014

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    I don't understand why more people = success according to our chambers of commerce. More people means more people, not necessarily a higher quality of life.

  • Compressed Air 2.0 Apr 25, 2014

    If I remember correctly it was just a few years ago that development along Green Level School Road wasn't sanctioned, I believe by the towne of Cary. Now all of a sudden there's mixed development going in. Highcroft, Alston Ridge and Mills Park Middle can and should be run as year round. The schools were designed to be YR, and between the three could probably handle 1000-1200 more students K-8.

  • Daria Apr 25, 2014

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    Impact fees are very needed. Unfortunately, too many special interests have fought them and won in this area, We need to start passing along the true costs of development to those making money from it.

  • Whistling Dixie Apr 25, 2014

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    But it's W's fault right? LOL!