Four more Wake County schools could join the list of overcrowded campuses put under enrollment caps that keep newly arriving families from attending them.
Wake County school administrators recommended Wednesday putting enrollment caps on 25 crowded schools through the 2022-23 school year. This list includes new caps proposed for Apex, Holly Springs and Parkside elementary schools in western Wake and River Bend Elementary in northeast Raleigh.
The school board could approve the caps on Feb. 1. Capping is not a popular option. But school leaders say the unpopular alternatives would be “massive reassignment” or converting schools to a multi-track year-round calendar.
“We’re at a limited capacity now so we’re going to need to make some decisions that maybe parents don’t like in order to make this work for everybody,” Glenn Carrozza, assistant superintendent for school choice, planning and assignment, told board members.
“I think the very hard part about this is that parents move into a base attendance area because they want that particular school, and that’s why they don’t like reassignment, they don’t like capping. We understand that, but it becomes a facility issue.”
List of capped schools
If approved, the new enrollment caps at Apex, Holly Springs, Parkside and River Bend elementary schools would go into effect immediately. Their proposed overflow options are:
▪ Baucom and Penny Road elementary schools would serve as overflow options for Apex Elementary depending on where the newly arriving family lives.
▪ Middle Creek Elementary would be the overflow for Holly Springs Elementary.
▪ Adams Elementary would be the overflow for Parkside Elementary.
▪ Fox Road Elementary would be the overflow for River Bend Elementary.
Administrators want to continue existing caps at 16 elementary schools; Abbotts Creek, Alston Ridge, Beaverdam, Cedar Fork, Highcroft, Holly Grove, Hortons Creek, Mills Park, Northwoods, Oakview, Olive Chapel, Rogers Lane, Scotts Ridge, Sycamore Creek, Weatherstone and White Oak.
Administrators also want to continue the caps at Apex Friendship and Mills Park middle schools and Apex Friendship, Heritage and Panther Creek high schools.
But administrators also want to remove the enrollment caps at Combs and Lead Mine elementary schools.
Pros and cons of capping
Enrollment caps are a way to shift the burden of reducing school overcrowding onto newcomers.
When a capped school reaches an enrollment limit, families who weren’t living in the attendance area by a certain date are assigned to a more distant school that has space. This school year, 1,627 students are capped out of the school they’d normally attend.
“Capping has expanded because it allows stability for the students who are there,” said board member Christine Kushner. “We have to acknowledge that is a direct reaction to the community’s pushback, rightfully so, on reassignments and mandatory year-round as it was called.”
Capping comes with a cost of longer bus rides for students and the need for 11 more buses to serve capped schools. Board member Roxie Cash said it’s “pie in the sky” to think they can run those new buses when they’re already dealing with severe bus driver shortages.
“We can’t sustain capping with the bus problems that we have now,” Cash said.
But Carrozza warned the board that a “huge wave” of student assignment changes would be needed if they don’t cap schools or convert them to a multi-track year-round calendar.
Some families like the multi-track calendar, in which students are split into four groups, with three in session at all times, as a way to increase capacity. But some families don’t like it, so the board is also considering a proposal to convert three under-enrolled multi-track schools to a single-track year-round calendar.
State class size limits
Wake has to deal with how the state sets class sizes at 18 students in kindergarten, 16 in first grade and 17 students in second- and third-grades.
Republican state lawmakers say smaller K-3 class sizes will help improve academic performance. But school districts complain that it’s difficult finding the teachers and the classroom space to meet the smaller class sizes.
Most of the capped elementary schools are in fast-growing western and southwestern Wake.
“I know I sound like a broken record, but K-3 class size legislation has significantly impacted western Wake,” Carrozza said. “We have lost seats in that area — an area that we could not afford lose seats to begin with.”
Kushner said a lot of the need for capping would go away if the state did away with the K-3 class size legislation. She said Wake should look into getting waivers from the state Department of Public Instruction.
Superintendent Cathy Moore said it might require legislative action to approve any waivers for Wake.