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High school redistricting plans up for discussion Monday

By Kathy Chaffin
kchaffin@salisburypost.com
Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education members will consider at least two high school redistricting plans at a work session Monday.
The meeting is open to the public and begins at 5 p.m. in the auditorium at the school system’s administrative offices at 110 N. Long St., East Spencer. Board members are allowed to vote during work sessions if they so choose.
Gene Miller, assistant superintendent for operations, said some amendments to Study Map No. 1 ó the plan recommended by the board’s Redistricting Committee ó will be proposed in a plan to be presented as Study Map No. 1-A. These include changes in recommended district lines that would have split up neighborhoods, one of the things he said the board wanted to avoid.
One of those neighborhoods is the Westcliffe subdivision off Statesville Boulevard, which had been in the West district, he said. The recommended plan would place the line dividing the West and North districts on a road through the middle of the subdivision.
Miller said the proposed amendment, which calls for all of Westcliffe to remain in the West district, would only affect 27 students.
The Meadowbrook subdivision, which is currently in the Salisbury district, would also have been split in the proposed plan. Part of Meadowbrook would have been added to the North district, he said, even though the layout of the roads make it a straighter shot to Salisbury High School.
Miller said Kathy Austin, Transportation Information Management System coordinator for the system, pointed out the issues with the Westcliffe and Meadowbrook subdivisions.
Austin also assisted in determining if any students would be traveling longer distances under the recommended plan. “I don’t see that happening,” he said. “There will certainly be an exception here and there where somebody says, ‘I have to go six miles and now I’ll have to go eight.’ ”
Also on the amended map, three areas proposed to be moved from West to South in Study Map No. 1 were returned to the West district. Upon examining the map, Miller said, “it really appeared that we were probably pulling too many students out of the West area.”
There was also some concern that Study Map No. 1 might be moving too many students to South, he said, where future growth is projected due to the N.C. Research Campus. Growth is also projected for Carson and West high schools.
“If you’re going to redistrict,” Miller said, “you really want to do that as close to optimization as you can so they will have room to grow.”
Two other redistricting study maps presented at the board’s Sept. 28 meeting as the committee’s second and third choices may also be discussed. On Study Map No. 3, the Salisbury district would lose the Country Club neighborhood, Country Club Hills, Crescent and Hidden Creek to North.
Board member Karen South Carpenter, who headed up the Redistricting Committee, said in presenting the three plans that North Rowan’s problems would become Salisbury’s problems under Study Map No. 1.
Study Map No. 2 would leave the Salisbury district intact, but change the lines for the other five high schools. Carpenter said if the board was going to redistrict, all of the high schools should be involved.
The recommended Study Map No. 1 would maintain the integrity of the Salisbury district, she said, while also addressing the underutilization problem at North and capacity issues at all of the high schools. The proposed districts would put the utilization of all six high schools at between 80 and 87 percent.
Projected percentages by school are as follows: East, North and Salisbury, 87 percent; Carson, 82 percent; South, 86 percent; and West, 80 percent.
Miller said all of the maps were based on extensive data compiled by OR/ED (Operations Research and Education Laboratory), the educational consulting company from N.C. State University hired by the board to come up with the plans. The company also did extensive research to project future growth.
OR/ED was chosen from two consulting companies considered by the board because of its excellent track record, he said. “They’ve done redistricting all over North Carolina,” Miller said, adding that OR/ED’s studies dated back to the 1980s.
OR/ED conducted an unbiased study and has no connections to Rowan County, he said. “We’re just looking at what appears to be the best plan for the future based on the facts.”
Tom Cook, project leader for the Rowan-Salisbury study, said many factors were considered in developing the redistricting plans presented to the committee. OR/ED did a land-use study involving a series of interviews with local stakeholders, he said, which included planners, the Chamber of Commerce, economic development officials and others in the area with information on growth and development.
Cook said they met with officials in all of the system’s municipalities on development activity. He even did a “windshield survey,” where he drove through subdivisions under construction and counted the number of houses that are under construction, completed and not yet sold and occupied.
OR/ED also looked at past data in terms of growth and took into consideration population changes that could come about from such factors as a major employer coming into the area.
“We’re trying to look at where growth is taking place, where it’s likely to take place and the rate of that growth,” Cook said. “That gets very difficult, especially under current economic conditions.”
For example, he said, the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis ó which is a big factor in the projected growth in the South district ó was initially expected to expand much more quickly than it has. “In other words, the growth is still likely to come, but it will be over a longer period of time.”
The six high schools’ current capacity was also considered, along with the board’s instructions to keep all of the schools between 80 and 87 percent of capacity.
Once the research was completed and data compiled, Cook said, they used computer software called the GAMS model, which factors in transportation issues to generate possible redistricting scenarios.
“We ran the model 30 to 40 different times,” he said, targeting from three to all six districts in the plans. Cook said the committee ruled some out because they did not include changing all of the districts. “My understanding is that the board thought it would be better if we were looking at redistricting, to look at the entire system.”
Cook said OR/ED had made two presentations to the board and met with the committee three or four times. Though he was at the September board meeting, he said it was just to answer any questions the board had, and none of the members had any.
School officials looking at proposed redistricting scenarios consider other factors, Cook said, such as keeping neighborhoods intact, bus routes and transportation issues and demographics such as percentages of students meeting the requirements for free and reduced lunches.
“They could ask us to look at some additional considerations or changes,” he said. “I don’t think anything at this point is set in stone. I think now is a time for consideration and deliberation.”
As part of its consulting, Cook said, OR/ED recommends that systems buy land in areas where new schools may be needed in the future.
One area Cook said they thought school board members should consider planning for is the China Grove area. “They have bought a parcel of land down near that area,” he said, “so in that respect, they were a step ahead and made a very good decision.”
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.
 

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