For most of this year, the Moore County Board of Education has taken a broad view of the district in discussing changes to individual schools’ attendance zones.
Its discussions of countywide redistricting have been conducted mainly in terms that apply to every school from Highfalls to Aberdeen: school capacity and enrollment projections over the next decade.
On Monday though, the board spent the morning zooming in on specific areas to reconsider some aspects of the districtwide redistricting proposal that Superintendent Bob Grimesey recommended last month. Once redistricting is fully implemented over the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years, it is expected to affect between 750 and 900 elementary school students and 400 to 600 middle school students, or just under 20 percent of Moore County School’s K-8 population.
Throughout the redistricting process, the board has sought to redistribute public school students among the existing elementary and middle school campuses more evenly than they are now. To achieve that, proposed redistricting contracts the lines around crowded schools like West End Elementary, West Pine Elementary and West Pine Middle, shifts other schools’ lines to the west to compensate, and extends the attendance areas of schools in northern Moore County where enrollment is expected to dwindle otherwise.
After several hours of review on Monday, the board endorsed a set of changes to that proposal that will keep more students at their current schools. Next week, when the board takes a final vote, the plan under consideration will reflect those changes.
Most notably, the board directed staff to adjust the redistricting plan to keep all of Pinehurst No. 6 at Pinehurst Elementary. The plan originally proposed would have sent about 58 elementary school students, from the northern edge of the neighborhood along Juniper Creek Boulevard, to West Pine Elementary.
The board also decided on Monday that the proposal should include all of Longleaf Drive Southwest in the new Pinehurst Elementary attendance area. In the original plan, the dividing line between the West Pine and Pinehurst elementary school areas intersected with Longleaf just east of Cypress Lane. That change would keep another 10 students at Pinehurst Elementary.
But the proposed division of Pinehurst No. 6 was the most often-voiced point of contention from speakers last month at the board’s public hearing on the superintendent’s proposed plan.
“I’ve driven through there and it’s a little unique, this community, in that it has only two entrances and exits,” said board member John Weaver. “I think if there’s a strong case of a community aspect under the guiding principles, this would probably the strongest case. It does affect, though, the membership in the schools quite a bit so we’ve got to keep that in mind.”
When the new Pinehurst school building opens in 2021, it will have room for 800 students. Based on current enrollment projections, that building would be full by 2028 under the original proposal. With another 70 students, the school’s enrollment would already be at 93 percent of that capacity in 2022 when all of the new attendance lines are in place.
“Even though it’s going to affect membership in schools, if we can keep the community together I’d feel better about it,” said board member Betty Wells Brown. “It’s a troublesome one for me personally because I see keeping it as a community if possible, but what are we going to do about the overcrowding?”
To counteract that adjustment to the proposal, the board also decided to shift the 120-acre tract of N.C. 5 that will be home to the mixed-use Blake Village development from Pinehurst Elementary to Aberdeen Elementary. That land is currently undeveloped, so the change has no short-term effect on existing students.
Numerix, the consulting firm the schools have hired to chart long-term enrollment projections based both on historical data and proposed development, estimates that Blake Village will be home to about 90 elementary school students once all 370 residential units are built and occupied.
Under the superintendent’s proposed redistricting plan, those students were originally factored into the enrollment growth at Pinehurst Elementary. But the timeline for those students to actually materialize is hard to pin down, according to lead consultant Mike Miller.
“Having worked in many districts where mixed-use has a little more traction, I can tell you that it still is a little bit of an unknown. Some of them pick up a moderate number of students, some of them just pick up young professionals that don’t have families yet,” said Miller. “The impact of this is not only over the long-term … but it’s still kind of fuzzy. It’s a hypothetical.”
The Aberdeen Elementary attendance zone has another similar case in the Martin property extending from Roseland Road to N.C. 5 around the construction side for the new Aberdeen school. A mixed-use development proposed there could be twice the size of Blake Village.
“If there’s been a consistent theme throughout this, we know that what we have in the next year to three or four weighs more heavily than beyond that. That’s where the board’s opportunity is in this conversation. You know that you have very reliable numbers along Longleaf and Pinehurst No. 6,” Grimesey said.
“If we look at Aberdeen and see we’ve got the large Martin property and we’ve got the potentially large Blake Village property, there aren’t hard numbers here. It’s reasonable for us to say that, if we have to compromise something, we’ll compromise the long-term projection and not the immediate projection.”
The board also considered whether to change where the redistricting plan sends students from the Eagle Springs community. The proposal would shift that area into the Robbins Elementary district from West End Elementary — also moving it from West Pine Middle to Elise and from Pinecrest to North Moore High.
A handful of “technical adjustments” to the proposal that the board endorsed on Monday would bring both sides of Holly Grove Church Road back into the West End area as well as both sides of N.C. 211 just short of Falls Drive. Those adjustments are based primarily on efficient bus route design and keeping buses off of dirt and gravel roads where possible, and affect about 70 students from elementary through high school.
Other than that change to the line between the proposed West End and Robbins attendance areas, the other substantive “technical” changes affect the proposed line between the Highfalls and Carthage elementary schools.
After a 4-3 vote, the board elected that the proposal to send Eagle Springs students to Robbins Elementary should stand. Board members considered changing the plan to reflect something closer to the current West End attendance zone, which would keep 47 elementary students at West End Elementary.
But the original redistricting proposal, which cut the West End attendance area down almost to the border of the Seven Lakes communities, only brought that school’s 2022 target enrollment down to 97 percent of its 500-student capacity. The campus’ topography limits inexpensive expansion options as the school is limited in the number of modular classrooms it can add there. Bringing Holly Grove Church back into its service area puts projected enrollment at 100 percent of capacity in 2022.
Keeping those 47 Eagle Springs students would put West End’s enrollment at nearly 110 percent that year, and the number of students there is only expected to grow.
“We have this underutilized capacity at Robbins,” Weaver said. “I don’t see how we can ignore it when we have all this pressure on the capacity at West End and West Pine Elementary.”
Parents in the Eagle Springs area have lobbied the school board to remain at West End though, apprehensive about a longer — and more out of the way for parents who work in Pinehurst or Aberdeen — drive to Robbins.
“Eagle Springs to them is their community. It’s where they work, where their kids play soccer, where they get their hair cut. They don’t go anywhere near Robbins to do any of that, so I have a lot of parents say their time concern would be going back and forth if they had to,” said board member Stacey Caldwell.
Caldwell, along with Brown and Vice-Chair Libby Carter, voted to change the redistricting proposal to send Eagle Springs to West End. But Weaver, Chair Helena Wallin-Miller, and board members Ed Dennison and Pam Thompson voted to keep the proposal as is with respect to that area.
“When you talk about drive times for a family if they’re not riding the bus … I don’t see that as a big issue,” said Wallin-Miller. “Where people live and where people work, we can’t control all of that. We have people who work on Forth Bragg, we have people who work in Sanford, we have people that work in Cary and people that work in Asheboro so it’s hard to accommodate all of that with a redistricting plan.”
Redistricting will also come with a set of “allowable transfer” guidelines for families who wish to either preempt redistricting or seek a stay for students in their final year at a school. On Monday, the board agreed to consider including rising high school sophomores along with juniors, seniors, and rising fifth and eighth graders. Younger siblings of eligible students will also be included as long as they’re already in school.