Parents and community members across Union County have been speaking out against the proposed redistricting of Union County Public Schools, but now one group has formulated a plan they think will ease overcrowding without shifting nearly 5,800 students further away from home.
Union County residents came together in Wesley Chapel in early January, after redistricting was first proposed as a means to fix overcrowding at a number of schools now and in the near future, to begin organizing an effort to stop what many saw as the wrong option for their children. Multiple committees were formed, and the end result is an alternative solution to options UCPS Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis recently discussed during the school board meeting in January.
The plan uses current facilities, with the possible addition of two small facilities within the next couple of years, to ease the problem and stop the need for redistricting, organizers of the proposal say.
“We took all of the options that had been given in the January meeting and looked at what most people really want,” Joely Lord, who is working with others in the community to formulate the plan, said.
The nearly 400-member group hopes to partner with board of education members to work through overcrowding problems that are anticipated to increase in the next few years and implement a long-term solution.
Each UCPS cluster has about three elementary schools and one middle and high school – except for the Cuthbertson cluster, with only two elementary schools; the Sun Valley cluster, with four elementary schools; and the Porter Ridge cluster, with five elementary schools. If the elementary schools were utilized in a more specific manner – kindergarten through second grade at one school, third and fourth grade at another and fifth and sixth grades at another – members of the group working on the alternative solution say the elementary and middle schools could see some relief, especially when pulling sixth grade out of the middle school facilities.
If this is implemented, using the school population numbers provided by the board of education, all overcrowding should be alleviated within the lower schools, if two additional small elementary-sized schools are built over the next three years, the group believes.
But that change alone won’t completely solve overcrowding, Lord said. Her group also is suggesting school choice or magnet school programs to be offered in schools with open seats to draw some students out of the overcrowded schools.
“Education is changing, and parents want choice,” she said. “If you don’t give them a choice, they will go and find it. We are at a point where the district can take this opportunity to provide for all UCPS students, not just some in a certain district of the county.”
The two-part plan, according to opponents of the redistricting, could be implemented within the next year and ease overcrowding. Although more than 5,800 students are proposed to be moved, projections from the school board only show schools being over cap by about 280 students next school year.
“That many students can fill 80 school buses, which would be six miles. If you put a child in every spot at Carolina Place Mall there would still be 400 students left over,” Lord said about the number of students the school board is proposing to transfer to new schools.
The two new elementary facilities the group is proposing to build could be located in the Cuthbertson cluster and in the Hemby Bridge area, Waxhaw resident Erin Kirkpatrick said, and could be built for about $44 million at the most. Kirkpatrick hopes to sit down with the Union County Board of Commissioners to discuss possible funding for the smaller facilities, which she said would prevent having to build a new cluster in the near future at an estimated cost of about $100 million, Kirkpatrick added.
If the changes the group is suggesting can’t be implemented for the next school year, the group is proposing address-based caps. Unlike the current capping procedure, each home currently attending a school would remain in that cluster, regardless of whether they sold their home, and all new homes would be bused to a school further away. There are still some details the group will have to work through to make the plans work for county schools, but members hope the school board will at least begin a discussion with Union County residents to work together to solve the overcrowding problem.