Board of Education presented with land use study in order to address projected capacity concerns in district schools

Board considering moving out of compliance with NC general statute regarding school calendar start date 

CARTHAGE — The Moore County Board of Education met Tuesday, October 11, where they were presented with a land-use study and information regarding the North Carolina general statute on school calendars.

The board was presented with a report by the Operations Research and Education Laboratory within the Institute of Transportation Research and Education of the Integrated Planning for School and Community Study and Land Use Study conducted for Moore County.

“The last time this type of study was conducted was presented to the board in January of 2018,” said Executive Officer for Operations John Birath. “Good practice with districts is to continue to revisit this and assess where you are relative to the forecast projections, growth, and development every three to five years. Since the mid-90s, the county has been working with ITRE and OREd on this task of forecasting and presenting to the board information relative to the decisions that need to be made. They represent multiple districts and do the studies about a dozen or so a year across the state. They are a valuable tool and asset to be used, and this information you will find beneficial as you engage.”

“What we are is an unbiased third-party evaluation research group that strives to depoliticize the school planning process and we’re able to do that through GIS analysis, stakeholder interviews, mathematical modeling, and applied decision science,” said Program Manager Thomas Dudley.

The report found that Moore County is experiencing steady growth thanks to three factors. The first is a change in market demand, preferences, and the expansion of telework and remote work, where people are looking to relocate to communities with more rural characteristics and feel but with a high level of amenities, high-quality healthcare, and recreational opportunities. The second growth factor is Moore County being a military family destination with Fort Bragg. The third and final factor is due to a regional manufacturing boom and the spillover effect.

The report listed additional factors for growth, including Moore County having an advanced healthcare cluster, a large golf/resort/recreation industry, and industrial sites.

“In addition to the land use study, another important factor that we consider as part of the membership forecast looking forward is your resident live birth history,” said Program Manager Thomas Dudley. “What we see in most districts in North Carolina during this timespan looking back to 2014 is typically a small decline, but that is not the case here.”

The biggest outcome from the report for Moore County Schools was the Membership Forecast: Out-of-Capacity Table which shows a 10-year projection for every school in the district and how that would impact school capacity so that MCS knows where to allocate resources to address those increases in population.

“When we looked at this in 2018, we had a lot of red lines on the chart, which meant that we had a lot of schools already at capacity or moving into the out-of-capacity status really quickly,” said Vice Chair Lib Carter. “If you look at this chart now, our high schools aren’t in good shape because we haven’t made any attempt to bring them under control yet, but our elementary and middle schools look so much better with the numbers that are currently enrolled. It’s not that the numbers have gotten so much smaller, but it’s that we’ve been able to redistrict, build new schools and accommodate more children at those schools and it’s totally put us back in the green.”

The board was also presented with the status of their master facility plan, which includes the modernization, renovation, or replacement of various facilities across the district, from gymnasiums, to athletic and performing arts facilities, to entire schools.

“Clearly, the taxpayers of Moore County and the school district don’t have unlimited funds,” said board member Robert Levy. “We can’t do all the things that we want to do, so we’re going to have to prioritize, and we’re going to have to also, as much as we want to do for everybody, we’ve gotta look at the numbers.”

Also, at board member David Hensley’s request, the board was presented with info on NC general statute 115C-84.2: School Calendars. 

According to the statute, the start date for a school year can be no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26 and the end date no later than the Friday closest to June 11. 

“We’ve wrestled with these restrictions over the years,” said Chief Officer for Academics and Student Support Services Dr. Mike Metcalf. “I think it’s fair to say that both our external community and our internal community would love for us to present a calendar where we had a semester that ends before the December break and a second semester that begins after the December break. But that is a struggle when you’re trying to build in between these two start and end dates.”

The calendar also has to cover nine months and a minimum of 185 days or 1,025 hours of instruction and no exemption waivers to the statute are given out for educational purposes.

“I was shocked when I went to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, and in big, bold letters it said, ‘Waivers based upon academic concerns would not be considered,’” Hensley said. “That is criminal. If the political process is not going to work, we just need to tell them that we’re not going to do it, and hopefully, other school districts in the state will join us.”

According to Dr. Metcalf, there are a few counties that are out of compliance with the statute, those being Gaston, Cleveland, Rutherford, and Surrey counties, according to the report to Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee as of June 15, 2022. To Dr. Locklair, there are clearly defined actions against or consequences for being out of compliance.

“This has been an issue forever,” Hensley said. “What brought this to the front of my mind was Dr. Locklair’s community engagement meeting that was held a couple of weeks ago, and this came up. During the time, I asked Dr. Metcalf if there were any educators or administrators that are in support of this calendar, and the answer was, ‘Not a single one.’ This is a rare opportunity to unite everybody in doing what’s best for the education of our students.”

The board approved a motion to compose and send a letter to involved parties, such as the governor, the general assembly, and other school boards, on the board’s desires to go against the calendar statute in order to have an earlier start date as well as compose an editorial to be published in support of a change to the school calendar statute.

“After looking into this and talking to many, many people, this odd school calendar is 100% driven by the North Carolina Tourism lobby, which wants school to start later in the year so they can get two weeks of additional vacation rentals out on the Outer Banks,” Hensley said. “Talking with Senator McInnis, he says that having end-of-grades after the holiday break results in a 3-5% decrease in end-of-grade tests. We have a constitutional responsibility to provide a sound, basic education to all of our children. That is in the North Carolina constitution, but that’s being usurped by a lobby. And because of a tourism lobby, we are being required to negatively affect the education of all of our children.”

The Moore County Board of Education will next meet November 7.

By Ryan Henkel, North State Journal

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