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School board weighs redistricting

By Sarah Nagem
snagem@salisburypost.com
North Rowan High School supporters might get their wish after all ó but they’ll have to wait until at least next spring.
On Monday, members of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education pledged that in April they will identify neighborhoods that could be ideal for redistricting. When schools get too crowded, they said, they will move students to schools with lower enrollments.
“It’s inevitable,” board chairman Dr. Jim Emerson said of redistricting. “But I don’t know if it’s immediately inevitable.”
North supporters have been vocal about wanting to boost enrollment at their school, which had more than 200 fewer students than the second smallest high school in the district during the 2006-2007 school year.
They want more students, they say, so the school can offer more advanced classes and return to the 2A athletic conference.
The school board appointed a three-member committee on Monday to consider current attendance boundaries and decide on enrollment “tipping points” for redistricting.
Board members Karen Carpenter and Bryce Beard and Assistant Superintendent of Operations Gene Miller make up the committee.
Carpenter, who represents the north district of the county, said it’s time for the board to make a move to help North Rowan.
“We’ve got to pull the trigger,” she said. “We can keep having this same conversation at every board meeting. … What do we do?”
Borrowing Carpenter’s phrase, Emerson suggested the board pull the redistricting trigger when schools reach capacity.
Using that logic, students who live in the South Rowan High School district might be moved to Carson, West or Salisbury when South is full.
Right now, all of Rowan-Salisbury’s high schools have room to spare, Miller said.
Emerson said the committee needs to consider specific neighborhoods.
The Country Club Hills area has been a focal point in the past. A few years ago, the board considered moving students who lived in that area from Salisbury High to North. Some parents were outraged, and the plan fell by the wayside.
On Monday, the board also talked about the Bringle Ferry Road area, where students currently attend East Rowan.
The school system could make those neighborhoods choice zones for North, Emerson said. Students could choose to attend North, even though they don’t live in the northern district.
A neighborhood’s location doesn’t always provide a clear-cut answer about where kids should go to school. Miller said Country Club Hills, for example, is 3.47 miles from North Rowan and 3.32 miles from Salisbury High.
Emerson said he also wants the board to consider the N.C. 150 area, where students currently attend West Rowan. That area could become a choice zone for Salisbury High to ease future overcrowding at West.
The risk of choice zones, some board members said, is that students might not choose to switch. Beard said North Rowan would need curriculum not available at other schools in order to draw in students.
Giving students attendance choices might help North, but only if students in other districts take the bait.
“I don’t know,” Emerson said. “It’s a long drive from China Grove to North.”
The board agreed the committee will consider school proximity and socio-economic factors when shifting attendance lines.
Board member Kay Wright Norman said the board should have the data to justify any redistricting plans.
“Otherwise it just becomes the same old political thing,” she said.
At the board’s request, Miller said he had spoken to two companies about creating attendance zone maps for Rowan-Salisbury schools.
A program through N.C. State University could cost the school system up to $40,000, while a plan from the Urban Institute at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte could cost up to $50,000, Miller said.
Either company could create district maps, forecast enrollment and highlight ideal locations for new schools, he said.
But Beard said the information is already available ó the school board had tentative plans in 2002 and 2005.
“We’ve already done this,” Beard said. “All the data is here.”
Emerson was skeptical about shelling out money to a company that he said would tell the board what it already knows.
“I’d rather see $30,000 given to North to buy gas for football games,” he said, referring to the long drives North’s sports teams will make in the 1A conference starting in the 2009-2010 school year.
Carpenter said the school board needs to present to students and parents that redistricting does not have to be a bad thing.
Parents should always be prepared for the possibility that their kids could have to switch schools, Emerson said.
“As a taxpayer, I don’t want to see 300 empty seats up at North and have schools overloaded at South,” he said.
“When we pull the trigger, we’ll be looking at filling seats,” he said later.

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