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Enrollment stagnant in Rowan-Salisbury, growing in Kannapolis

By Sarah Nagem
snagem@salisburypost.com
Only about 18 miles separate the administrative offices of the Rowan-Salisbury School System and Kannapolis City Schools.
But officials in the two systems are facing different issues when it comes to student enrollment. The Kannapolis system is growing fast, while enrollment at Rowan-Salisbury schools is stagnant.
On the 10th day of this school year, Kannapolis schools had 5,177 students.
Last year, schools had 5,004 ó an increase of about 3.5 percent.
Head north a short distance, and the story changes. Rowan-Salisbury schools had 20,922 students on the 10th day.
That compares to 20,940 students on the 10th day of school last year ó a slight decrease.
“It’s not really growing right now,” said Gene Miller, assistant superintendent of operations for Rowan-Salisbury.
Growth ó and a lack of growth ó each have pros and cons, school officials said.
An expanding student enrollment signals an expanding community, Miller said.
Kannapolis is a prime example. As more families move to the area for the N.C. Research Campus and other job opportunities, student enrollment will likely continue to increase.
That means Kannapolis schools need classroom space, and lots of it.
“That’s the biggest challenge with the growing enrollment,” said Will Crabtree, director of business operations for the Kannapolis system.
Kannapolis schools added 15 more mobile classrooms this school year. Twelve are at the elementary schools, while the rest are at the middle school.
The school system pays between $300 and $400 a month to lease each mobile unit, Crabtree said.
Rowan-Salisbury officials didn’t need to set aside extra money for more classroom space this year. They didn’t add any mobile units.
The Kannapolis system is out of room at a few of its elementary schools and also its high school, Crabtree said.
Officials there recently bought land for a new intermediate school. The existing facility will become a new elementary school when money becomes available for the project.
And A.L. Brown High School is getting another wing.
Rowan-Salisbury schools are only 87 percent full, Miller said.
Bostian, Knollwood and Morgan are the only elementary schools over capacity, he said.
All of the middle schools have room to spare, and only Carson and West Rowan high schools are slightly over their intended enrollment numbers.
But Miller thinks the growth Kannapolis is experiencing will make its way north.
“Eventually, it will move on up 85,” he said. “Which is saying we need to be prepared when the growth gets here. … It would be a bad thing to be growing if you don’t have adequate space.”
Space isn’t the only issue. The state doles out funds to school systems based on enrollment numbers.
The more students a system has, the more money the state provides for everything from driver’s education to staff development.
Because of its shrinking enrollment, the Rowan-Salisbury system got less money from the state this year for some things such as driver’s education and career and technical education.
In Kannapolis, state education leaders apparently didn’t expect the kind of growth the school system is seeing. The state underestimated the enrollment by 40 to 50 students, Crabtree said.
That means the system isn’t getting as much state money as it should.
“We have more students than we were funded for,” Crabtree said.
But despite concerns about space and money, Crabtree said Kannapolis schools welcome the challenges.
“It’s always good to be growing instead of declining,” he said.

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