Wake County Schools

Cary's Mills Park elementary, middle to keep traditional school calendar

Posted September 16, 2014 6:44 p.m. EDT
Updated September 16, 2014 8:17 p.m. EDT

— Parents at Mills Park elementary and middle schools scored a huge victory Tuesday evening when the Wake County Board of Education voted unanimously to keep both schools on a traditional 10-month calendar.

To help alleviate overcrowding at the Cary schools – enrollment is at 111 and 116 percent of capacity, respectively – the district will add five mobile classrooms (one for the elementary school, four at the middle school) and limit middle school enrollment to students from feeder elementary schools starting in the 2015-16 school year.

Students currently in feeder elementary schools will be able to attend Mills Park middle, but new elementary students may be capped out and assigned to West Cary Middle instead.

While the move slightly reduces enrollment to 109 percent of capacity at the elementary school and 108 percent at the middle school, it does come with a cost. The additional mobile classrooms will cost the district $530,000, plus traffic adjustments could add up to hundreds of thousands more.

"While it's been a difficult month for folks in that part of the community and all of us trying to gravel with this, one of the positive things is an understanding of the pressure we are facing as a school district and how we continue to deal with growth in high growth areas and reasons why we're looking at some less than attractive measures to deal with the growth," said school board member Susan Evans, whose district includes the Mills Park schools.

The approved recommendation was one of three board members considered. Other options were to add 21 mobile classrooms at a cost of about $2 million or convert both schools to a multi-track calendar, which would have reduced enrollment by more than 20 percent.

"The compromise option will be the lesser of the evils and will help us survive the next couple of years as we wait for some additional school capacity to come on board," Evans said.

The multi-track option was not acceptable to parents, said Leigh Kinnell, a parent with children at both schools. Converting to a multi-track calendar would disrupt family and community cohesiveness and could increase child care and other family expenses, she said.

“We’re very appreciative to the board members for going back to the drawing board and coming up with a third option,” Kinnell said prior to the meeting. “We are very thankful that they heard our voice. They listened and they came up with a less expensive option that was much more cost effective than the first two options. We know that this is a one-, two-year solution to a geographic area that is experiencing extreme population growth, and the Mills Park community is willing to keep advocating for good policy, good options and family and community cohesiveness.”

About 150 Mills Park parents planned to attend Tuesday's meeting, which comes about a week after dozens of Mills Park parents and students walked to school in protest of any calendar changes. 

Kinnell said about 30 parents planned to speak Tuesday. After hearing about the approved option, only seven spoke. 

All were in favor of the approved plan.

"I thank you for not degrading the quality of life for families," Mills Park parent Susan Stines said.

Other calendar changes approved by the board:

  • Ballentine Elementary, currently multi-track year-round at 65 percent capacity: Mobile classrooms will be removed and one of the four tracks will be collapsed. The changes would increase Ballentine’s population from 65 percent to 75 percent of capacity, and eliminating a track would save the district $245,000. While removing the mobile classrooms would cost $2,500, the district would save on maintenance and utility costs.
  • Wakefield Elementary, currently multi-track year-round at 90 percent capacity: The school will be converted to a traditional calendar so Wakefield elementary, middle and high schools will have the same schedule. The move would increase enrollment to 108 percent of capacity, but if all of the school’s mobile classrooms are used, capacity would drop to 91 percent.
  • Alston Ridge Elementary, currently a single-track, year-round school with enrollment at 111 percent of capacity: The school will be converted to a multi-track, year-round school, and the addition of mobile classrooms would be delayed pending growth in fourth and fifth grades. The change would reduce Alston Ridge to 85 percent of capacity through three double-loaded and one triple-loaded track. Enrollment would drop to 82 percent with the addition of four mobile classrooms. The move would cost the district $32,000 for year-round carts and $160,000 for two mobile classrooms.

Schools using a multi-track, year-round calendar can enroll more students by operating on four separate tracks. Each track runs for about nine weeks, followed by a three-week break. The tracks are staggered so three tracks can operate at any given time.

Parents and school board members recognized that the plan is a temporary one as Wake County continues to grow. Evans, the school board member, described it as a "stop-gap measure."

"North Carolina communities are not allowed to consider school infrastructure when approving building permits," said Stines, one of the Mills Park parents. "That is a state law problem and it needs to change."

The calendar changes come as the district is also considering a student enrollment plan that would adjust attendance zones for 63 current schools to alleviate overcrowding and help fill 17 new schools the district plans to build over the next four years.

Officials project the district will grow by 18,000 students over the next four years. To address the influx of students, three schools are scheduled to open in 2015 (two elementary, one high), five in 2016 (four elementary, one middle), six in 2017 (five elementary, one high) and three in 2018 (two middle, one high).