The final part of our 2017 Board Planning Session day was spent revisiting the 10 year plan, seeing where we were, reviewing where were are at with population growth and building and program capacities at our schools and anticipating what the future will look like and what facilities and other adjustments we will need to make to continue to provide a quality education for the students that attend our schools.
Last year’s plan had $264 million dollars in needed capital projects (including new schools) in the next 5 years. Our Cabarrus County Commissioners (County) did move to help Cabarrus County Schools (CCS) buy property and begin the design on a new High School this past year.
CCS and the County also were able to construct and open very economically a second Early College which eventually will hold 240 students on the RCC campus on Highway 29.
CCS also made some adjustments with redistricting and moving programs at JN Fries Middle School which hopefully will allow the system to push back the need for a new middle school for two years. All our middle schools will be fully utilized. The existing Performance Learning Center High School that is located at JN Fries Middle School will have to be relocated for the plan to work.
Tim Lowder and Dr. Rhymer reviewed the need in the plan to try to balance the replacing of old schools, some almost 70 years old with building schools for growth. Unfortunately, the growth is not in the areas where the old schools generally need to be replaced so not a lot of capacity is added doing replacements. The CCS plan last year was to build a “Swing School” allowing the system to close and rebuild a school on land already owned by the system and thus saving money in the long term by condensing three small schools into two medium size schools and repurposing the one facility that would not be rebuilt. The plan was to replace RB McAllister ES and Coltrane Webb ES and repurpose Beverly Hills ES as the site had too many challenges for reconstruction.
Turning our attention to growth, taken as a whole, CCS grow by 751 students last year and now has 32,057 K-12 students in all our facilities. The biggest area of student growth and capacity need is at the High School level.
Mr. Lowder went over a slide that showed all the housing developments and units currently approved / permitted to be constructed in the county. Using a formula that translates buildout by housing type to number of students generated, from just these developments CCS can expect to see an additional 8,690 students. That number doesn’t count any new developments that may and likely will be approved from this point forward. Depending on the speed of the buildout we can expect an influx of new students ranging from 869 to 1,739 each year. That is basically a new schools worth of students every year. We obviously don’t have capacity in our existing schools for that growth which is why we put together and adjust this 10 year plan every year.
As mentioned before, High School is our biggest concern as we are over capacity at three schools and soon won’t be able to accept any more students at those facilities. It was pointed out that Central Cabarrus High School (CCHS) now have 1,696 students at a 50 year old facility which is 129% over designed capacity. There is not anymore room to add additional mobile classrooms and they aren’t able to feed that many students in the time available.
With no additional capacity, by 2019 CCS will have five high schools over capacity and Central Cabarrus district is anticipated to have 2,116 or 161% of capacity. The new high school we hope the County will approve soon, so it can open in 2019, will help some other schools with overcrowding issues because of its centralized location on Weddington Road but unfortunately not impact Central Cabarrus more than about 150 students due to the size and location of CCHS boundary that includes the much of the south part of Cabarrus County.
It appears that because of our county's growth, another new high Sshool will be needed in the southern to southwestern part of the county to handle the growth coming from Charlotte through Harrisburg and Midland. Just replacing Central Cabarrus which was on the 10 year plan (needed in the first five years) would not add enough capacity to alleviate the overcrowding situation and new student population growth that is anticipated.
The CCS staff recommendation to the Board is to modify the 10 year plan and move up the timeframe for the second new high school into the first 5 year window switching places with the Central Cabarrus replacement so funding needed for the plan would not change drastically.
We are obviously limited by Cabarrus County and the community's ability to pay for the items in the plan. The County Commissioners are looking at how to do exactly that and will be having their retreat next weekend to look at their 5 year plan and what projects to include in how and how it will be funded. They have to fund more than just CCS so it is important they know and understand our needs as well impacts of not being able to meet the timelines.
Ms. Rhymer spoke about the likely need to restrict new enrollment ("CAP") schools, including first at Central Cabarrus for next school year. Capping basically prevents anyone new moving into the attendance zone from going to their home school and having a longer bus ride to another school that is not so over capacity. It’s been done before but has a drastic impact on students (going to another school for unknown time), transportation, and community impacts including property values and changing development patterns area where people build or move into. One of the top deciding factors for people choosing a home is what school their child will be going to.
I personally don’t like the CAP the school option as first choice and hope the staff will look at other options. Some other options that should at least be looked at is expanding the magnet programs, minor redistricting, satellite capping (where all kids in neighborhood go to same school, Possible double shift or year round tracks. None of these are wonderful options but positives and negatives and community input should be considered before just doing something because it has been done before and hopefully will only last a short time.
The 10 year plan presentation continued looking at other parts of the plan including a badly needed elementary school in the southwest area south of Harrisburg as well. We are three elementary schools in this high growth area that are over capacity and that growth is expected to continue and it’s important that a location for the school is found so it can be built and open for the 2019-2020 school year. We were advised that Elementary schools don’t take as long to build as a high school does.
There was a discussion on size of schools and I appreciated Dr. Lowder’s passion for not recommending building large capacity schools (over 1,000 for Elementary School, 1,600 for High School) and the reasons behind his perspective as a parent, teacher, principal, and superintendent. We don’t want move kids through the education system impersonally, like a factory. When a school gets large, principals don’t know all the students, at some large schools, they don’t even know all their staff members. At large schools, there is still only one basketball team, drama team, band, etc. The chances for students to participate are very limited. We want to engage kids and get them involved to stay in school and do well. We just can’t do that well at a large overcrowded school.
The 10 year plan presentation ended with the revised recommendation on the 10 year plan. The changes were an additional $4 million to relocate the PLC from JN Fries to its own centralized site by 2018-19 school year. The delay of the new middle school for growth by two years, and the switch from CCHS replacement to a second new high school for growth in the first five years totaling $268 million.
After discussion on timelines and projects, the board voted on the revisions to the 10 year plan and for it to be presented to the County Commissioners at their retreat on January 27th.
We also discussed the impact of the $70 million dollar new high school that needs the Commissioners approval to be soon to be able open for the 2019 school year. It’s going to require a major redistricting to fill those 1,600 seats and relieve our other overcrowded high schools.
Many current middle school students in these areas will not be attending the high school their older sibling is attending or had attended. Northwest HS and JM Robinson High Schools because of location will have their boundaries changes the most to fill the new school. Students that would have attended Cox Mill will instead attend Northwest HS to fill the space of the students that now will attend the new school. The same situation will occur in the southern growth area, several hundred students currently in the Hickory Ridge area or Central Cabarrus area north of highway 49 will need to go to JM Robinson to fill the seats at JM Robinson. The administration feels that Concord and Mt. Pleasant High Schools boundaries and students won’t be impacted as dramatically from this school opening.
The CCS Administration has entered into a contract with Davis Demographics to provide the district with 10 year student projects, 10 year housing buildouts, and redistricting scenarios as needed, starting with a new Royal Oaks boundary when that school opens for 2018-19 school year.
We were reminded before our planning retreat ended that growth is here and will continue for the foreseeable future and that has big impacts on our school system that will require difficult and likely unpopular decisions by the board.
I am grateful and appreciative of all the work our superintendent and staff put into preparing for and presenting this information at our planning session, and felt better informed to both make decisions, ask educated questions, support recommendations, and develop my own ideas as a board member. The next steps is communicating this information to our stakeholders and listening to their input.
If you want to review the entire 10 year plan presentation from the January 21st 2017 meeting, its available at this link: