Over the next two years, as many as 1,500 students will be affected as Moore County Schools implements a countywide shift in school attendance lines the school board approved in October.
Though maps of the new attendance lines have been available since last year, families whose children will be moved to new schools this coming fall will receive confirmation in early February.
Moore County Schools is planning to send every student’s school assignment for the 2020-2021 school year by mail by mid-February.
For hundreds of students, primarily K-8 students in the North Moore and Union Pines attendance areas, those assignments will be different than the current year. Changes in the attendance areas for West End and West Pine Elementary will also be introduced this year.
With the opening of a new Aberdeen Elementary School on N.C. 5 this fall, and new Southern Pines and Pinehurst Elementary schools in 2021, redistricting will take place at a time when some students will already be moving from old schools to new ones.
Southern Pines Elementary is slated to open in January 2021 off of Morganton Road, with Pinehurst following in August 2021. Changes in those schools’ attendance areas won’t take place until 2021.
The Moore County Board of Education spent the better part of 2019 developing the countywide redistricting plan to move students out of crowded schools like West End, and both West Pine elementary and middle, where cost and space constraints limit expansion options. The resulting plan moves students north and east, and will help fill classrooms in the North Moore-area schools, where enrollment has declined.
School administrators are working with consultants to refine transportation maps for the next two school years. Once they’ve confirmed that those maps are compatible with the school district’s existing data for 1,000 randomly selected student addresses, parents will be notified of their children’s school assignments for 2020-2021.
“This cross-check is intended to evaluate and make sure the system is working well, and hopefully validate the information is 100 percent accurate, before we initiate the query available to the public and the notifications to all of the households,” John Birath, the district’s director for operations, told the school board on Monday.
Transfer Rules Spelled Out
The letters home will include information on the transfer policy that the school board adopted, along with the new attendance maps. That policy is designed to protect students matriculating from elementary to middle or middle to high school in the next two years from successive school changes.
“Some will go to sixth grade at one school and in seventh grade they might go to a different school, so they would be encouraged to look into the future to see what the second year assignment would be, and the letter will provide that information,” said board member Helena Wallin-Miller.
Students who will be in fifth or eighth grade the year that they’re due to switch schools can apply to finish the elementary or middle grades at their original school. Parents of students who are already in high school can also apply for their students to remain at their current school.
Families whose children will be assigned to a new school in 2021-2022 can apply for what the schools are calling a “proactive” transfer to move to their new school a year early. Such requests have a high likelihood of approval.
Moore County Schools will host an online query system that will allow parents to check school assignments for both 2020-2021 and 2021-2022.
“We want to make it very clear that just because you’re a rising fifth grader, let’s say, and will be allowed to stay on at your previous school, you still must apply in the application process to do that,” said board Chair Libby Carter. “It’s not automatic.”
Eligible students’ younger siblings, if they’re already enrolled in school before redistricting is implemented, will also be allowed to remain at their original schools. Families who take advantage of those transfer options will be responsible for transporting their students to school.
This week the school board also discussed costs related to opening the new Aberdeen, Southern Pines and Pinehurst schools. Administrators hope to balance out additional costs added to the district’s operational budget when McDeeds Creek opened last year.
McDeeds Creek offset crowding at Sandhills Farm Life and Vass-Lakeview. Unlike the three schools that will follow, it did not replace an existing school, so it added about $740,000 in operating costs to Moore County Schools’ annual budget.
But the new Aberdeen and Southern Pines schools will each replace two existing schools, serving a similar number of students with greater efficiency and with more modern facilities. So the district expects to spend $300,000 less on the new Aberdeen school each year than it does on the current primary and elementary schools. The opening of the new Southern Pines school is projected to save over $400,000 per year.
“You’re going to see some savings through duplications that are reduced,” Birath said. “Also we’re taking old schools that have high operational demands, more energy usage because the (old) schools don’t have insulation, they are constructed … without high-performing sustainable systems, so even from that point there will be a reduction in our costs to operate the schools.”
The new Aberdeen Elementary School was the first of three projects, all funded by $103 million in general obligation bonds that Moore County voters approved in May 2018, to begin construction. The district expects to take possession of the finished building in early March. The new Southern Pines Elementary was originally scheduled to open this fall along with Aberdeen, but that school’s completion date has been pushed into the fall.
“That completion date had been set at the end of July right from the get-go, and our experience with McDeeds Creek and our other construction projects was that that was very risky,” said Superintendent Bob Grimesey. “So it was a blessing in disguise that we had advance notice that it was going to be in September, or maybe as late as early October, to allow us to defer that until Christmas and have an orderly entry into that school.”
Teachers and many other school staff members will generally move from the old schools to new ones along with the students they teach. But when two schools combine into one there will be fewer positions for staff like assistant principals, media specialists and bookkeepers — some of whom, Grimesey said, will need to look for other positions within the district.
“This is a personnel matter and it is requiring careful personnel management. People are losing their jobs, and I don’t know that that’s really sunk in for everybody,” he said. “What we’re doing is we’re going through a process where it’s not just a budget issue. I don’t want people to be forgotten in this process. We’re managing some fear on the part of some folks, they’ve been very professional about it and they deserve credit for that professionalism.”
As each new school comes online, the district will incur costs related to the new campuses’ utilities and staffing while still teaching children in the old ones. Between all three schools, those interim periods are expected to run the district about $290,000. Those costs will fall within both the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 budget years.