Fri January 24, 2014
Union County Parents Gear Up To Fight School Redistricting
If you live in western Union County, you’re well acquainted with the words ‘school redistricting.’ For many years the district scrambled to build schools to keep up with all the growth, re-drawing attendance lines as new schools opened.
Now many schools are filling up again. The school board is mulling a plan to ease the overcrowding by shifting nearly 6,000 students to different schools. Many parents are mad.
Kensington Elementary School in Waxhaw has eight mobile classrooms. The school was built nine years ago and it’s already at 124 percent of its capacity.
“Kensington Elementary is the poster child, if you will, for overcrowding,” says school board member Kevin Stewart.
For that reason, the board decided to cap the attendance here and at a couple other schools. People new to the area have to send their kids to schools, in many cases, further away. It’s a stop gap measure, until board members can settle on another plan to ease overcrowding.
“The worst case of redistricting, as some people see it, would move approximately 5,500 students. That starts as a wave from here at the epicenter where the overcrowding is the worst and then moves to the east until the wave subsides out,” explains Stewart.
Growth has spurred the district to build twenty-three schools since 2000. Residents here may be used to redistricting, but they don’t like it. This one is particularly upsetting because it covers so many schools. Under the plan, most of the public schools in Union County would either gain or lose students. The shuffling is also not to make way for a new school this time.
This week parents in Weddington Chase gathered to figure out how to fight the redistricting. It’s a subdivision of big, brick homes with pillars and shutters and borders three clusters of schools that feed into three different high schools.
“We’re always the one with the target on our back, with the likelihood of us always being bounced around. That’s a problem,” Kristy Maher told her neighbors.
Weddington Chase kids would go from one high-performing cluster of schools to another. Maher says her problem is with breaking up classmates and school communities. She gets a lot of nods.
Parents signed up for committees to research school numbers, hatch a media strategy, and look into legal issues.
Several neighborhoods slated to shift schools have geared up to fight the redistricting. For many parents like Denise Connor, concerns about lengthy bus rides, school performance, and property values all come into play. Her children would travel eight miles to lower-performing schools.
“No one will want to buy our home, if they have to bus their child that far when they can go a mile down the road and move into a school district, for either Weddington or Cuthbertson…schools that we helped build,” says Connor.
The redistricting plan has only been out for a week, but word has spread fast. The school board met last night to go over other ways of easing overcrowding. Twelve-hundred parents showed up. There was no time set aside for public comment, but the crowd certainly made its feelings known.
Board member Kevin Stewart said the redistricting is all about safety, making sure schools have enough room to serve lunch and shelter kids during tornadoes. Then, he asked how to proceed if a storm comes through and there’s not room to shelter all kids.
The crowd grumbled. One parent even yelled out an insult.
District Superintendent Mary Ellis laid out some alternatives to redistricting like adding mobile classrooms, capping school attendance, adding sixth grade to elementary schools, and making some schools year-round, but on a staggered schedule to fit more students.
Parents clearly liked some of them, especially building new schools and building expansions on existing ones.
But district officials say more building would still require redistricting 4,000 students. It would also entail asking the Union County commission to put school bonds on the ballot. That’s not likely to fly, since the school board is locked in a legal battle with the commission over funding. The school board won’t make its final decision until April.