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School board looks at new district plan

By Kathy Chaffin
kchaffin@salisburypost.com
The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education voted 6-1 Monday to proceed with a proposed high school redistricting plan that would leave the Carson and South districts intact.
The new plan would move the Country Club section of Salisbury (all the way out to North Main Street) to the North district; the Morlan Park area from East Rowan to North; the Westcliffe section on both sides of U.S. 70 from West to North; and the N.C. 150 corridor including the Summerfield, Windmill Ridge and Hidden Hut subdivisions from West to Salisbury.
The vote ó opposed by Kay Wright Norman ó was the closest the board has come to agreement since they began considering possible high school redistricting plans in September.
The proposed plan is a variation of a new map presented at Monday’s called work session as Study Map No. 4, even though it’s actually the 40th redistricting option to be developed by OR/ED (Operations Research and Education Laboratory), the N.C. State University educational consulting company paid $40,000 to come up with possible redistricting plans, according to Gene Miller, assistant superintendent for operations.
The map was developed based on concerns raised by Jean Kennedy, vice chairwoman of the board, and members Linda Freeze and Patty Williams during a Dec. 10 meeting with Miller.
The three were hoping to avoid moving areas affected by a 2006 high school redistricting, but Kathy Austin, Transportation Information Management System coordinator for the school system, said Westcliffe had been part of the changes three years ago.
Kennedy was the only one of the three who served on a Redistricting Committee appointed by the board to study OR/ED’s original 39 redistricting options and make a recommendation.
The board rejected the plan recommended by the committee in favor of one of two more submitted to the board for consideration, then voted at its last meeting to go back to the drawing board and come up with a different proposal.
Chairman Dr. Jim Emerson noted that there was not a quorum of board members at the Dec. 11 meeting with Miller, which would have required it to be advertised and open to the public.
Miller said after Monday’s work session that he also talked with one to two other board members before asking OR/ED to develop the additional map.
Moving the old Country Club section from Salisbury High to North was not part of Study Map No. 4 as presented Monday, but was added by board members after discussing various options.
Many of the 58 people who spoke against the previous proposed redistricting plan objected to Salisbury not being affected and said the district was receiving favoritism. One man drew loud applause when he chanted, “Country club, country club.”
Karen South Carpenter noted that the board had gotten away from its original instructions to OR/ED to develop redistricting options based on objective data that would result in utilizations between 80 and 87 percent at each high school.
Norman and Williams raised concerns about moving the N.C. 150 corridor area encompassing three subdivisions from West to North. Williams said Principal Jamie Durant said West’s enrollment is lower than it has been in 10 years and that the school had lost 10 more students this past week.
Norman said the massive layoffs at Freightliner and the poor economic conditions are forcing some people to move out of the district. “Jobs are a factor,” she said, “and I don’t think that’s going to improve for the next five years. There’s no reason to create a bubble on one end to eliminate something on the other side.”
It’s not just West Rowan that’s suffering from the poor economy, Carpenter said, asking Norman if she had seen all the “For Sale” and “For Rent” signs in Spencer.
She said later in the meeting, “I don’t understand why everybody is so concerned about other schools’ capacity issues and not North Rowan’s.”
Miller said OR/ED officials had expressed concern about the overall declining enrollment in Rowan County high schools, saying it could drop even lower due to the economy.
Though the number of births in the county has increased, he said these children won’t show up in elementary school enrollments for three or four years. “They’re not going to hit high school for many, many years,” he said.
Based on current enrollment trends, Miller said there could be more high schools ó including West Rowan, which just won the state 3A football championship for the second year in a row ó on the borderline of being moved to smaller athletic conferences. North Rowan’s declining enrollment caused the school to be moved from a 2A to a 1A conference effective this year.
Miller distributed copies of the high schools’ average daily membership at the end of the third month of the 2009-2010 school year showing the following utilization percents: East, 87 percent; Carson, 98 percent; North, 61 percent; Salisbury, 79 percent; South, 72 percent; and West, 99 percent.
These figures indicate that five of the six high schools are out of line with the board’s directives to OR/ED to keep utilizations at between 80 and 87 percent.
Moving the Morlan Park area from East to West was part of the previous redistricting plan considered by the board.
Miller said the Morlan Park area was not addressed at the public hearings. “I don’t know that there’s been a lot of controversy about that,” he said. “I’m not sure why, but that’s been the situation.”
In finalizing the map and the number of students that would be affected, Williams asked Miller and Austin if they could also come up with a socioeconomic profile of the students that would be moved. Miller said it would take more time to do that as Austin would have to check to see which of the individual students qualify for free and reduced lunches.
Emerson asked if the information would be available for the board’s regular December meeting next Monday. Board members agreed with his suggestion to tentatively set a public hearing on the new proposed redistricting plan for Monday, Jan. 11, in the Knox Middle School auditorium.
Norman said she would rather have the hearing in the board’s regular meeting place in the auditorium of the central offices at 110 N. Long Street in East Spencer.
Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom said the projected enrollments under all of the possible redistricting plans do not address students who might opt to attend Henderson Independent High School or the 200 who will be entering the Early College program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
Board members discussed various plans among themselves for about 20 minutes of the 100-minute meeting before coming up with the proposed plan.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.

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