Union parents on edge over possible school redistricting

abell@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 22, 2014 

It’s far from a done deal, but plenty of Union County parents remain on edge over the school district considering its first-ever countywide redistricting to handle overcrowding.

The issue has played out at local rallies, school board meetings, municipal meetings and on social media.

On Thursday night, the school board will hear alternatives to redistricting. But a decision on whether to proceed with redistricting is not expected at the meeting, board Chairman Richard Yercheck said Wednesday.

As it stands, redistricting would involve 14 percent of the district population changing schools, or about 5,800 of 41,800 students. High school seniors will be allowed to remain at their school, and Yercheck favors letting juniors stay, too.

“Everyone is up in arms about it,” said Lory Lynch, a Waxhaw resident whose two children would have to switch schools under redistricting. “I don’t think the school board will listen. They didn’t spend all this time drawing out (redistricting) maps for nothing.”

But Yercheck said the board has not made up its mind as it tries to craft a plan to impact the least amount of families possible. He did not know which plan he would support.

Parents, students and others have taken their concerns to public rallies as well as social media. For instance, an online petition at change.org to stop redistricting has more than 9,400 signatures.

On Tuesday night, to the cheers of an overflow crowd, the Wesley Chapel council approved a sharply worded resolution opposing redistricting.

It said redistricting would end up “pulling friends apart and segregating our neighborhoods” while moving youths “from higher performing schools to lower performing schools, which is unacceptable to the parents in our community.”

“(The plan) is ripping apart communities,” Wesley Chapel resident Stephanie Haring said. She is concerned that homes in her Price Mill community would lose their value if students have to go to another school.

Another parent, Jenny Kanagy, said her family moved into their Weddington neighborhood from the Raleigh area because of the reputation of the local schools. Uprooting her kids to go to another school could be a logistical nightmare, she said.

“Parents are hoping the school board slows down and considers all options,” Kanagy said.

But despite her strong feelings, she disliked the disparaging comments that have surfaced online about the issue. “There’s been a lot of ugliness, and I hate that,” Kanagy said.

Yercheck, the school board chairman, said he doesn’t understand the vitriol some parents have directed to certain schools or parts of the county.

Facebook comments from ticked-off parents included: “If the likes of people like you and your attitude is what will be in our school, we don’t want you there”; “Where do we start petitions to recall those that support this ridiculous idea?”; and “We need to overwhelm the BOE with our disapproval.”

Still building

Union County, once one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, still attracts plenty of new homes. Several municipalities have approved hundreds of building permits since 2011, according to the county.

A demographic report for the school district estimated that the system will grow by about 15 percent between 2010 and 2020. Some areas will see much stronger growth. Kensington Elementary, for instance, is projected to grow by about 65 percent.

The district is the sixth largest in the state, and is home to 53 schools.

Union County has previously handled smaller-scale redistricting, district spokesman Rob Jackson said. The last time that happened was in 2008.

Three schools have reached their maximum capacity, and the school board capped the enrollment in November for Marvin Ridge Middle, Porter Ridge Middle and Kensington Elementary.

Alternatives to redistricting could include more enrollment caps, year-round schools or morning, afternoon and evening shifts at schools, Yercheck said.

After Thursday’s meeting, he expects the board will need at least one more work session before deciding how to proceed. Whatever path they choose will include public forums, and a final vote by the board is expected by early April.

Correspondent Jane Duckwall contributed.

Bell: 704-358-5696; Twitter: @abell

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