Sunday, February 25, 2024

‘A new school may be needed’: Three years after $152 million bond, Brunswick Schools enrollment swelling

Explosive growth in northern Brunswick County has created a planning problem for Brunswick County Schools' leaders. Just three years after voters approved a $152 million school bond, school officials are acknowledging the possibility that a new school may be needed -- a new school not included in that bond.

(Left) Brunswick County School Board Chair Catherine Cooke, (center) Chief Operating Officer Sue Rutledge, and (right) board member Gerald Benton, Jr. discuss much-needed school re-assignment lines at an Operations Committee meeting Tuesday. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
(Left) Brunswick County School Board Chair Catherine Cooke, (center) Chief Operating Officer Sue Rutledge, and (right) board member Gerald Benton, Jr. discuss much-needed school re-assignment lines at an Operations Committee meeting Tuesday. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Brunswick County Schools’ Operations Committee approved a two-phase study related to the system’s enrollment capacity issues by a four-to-one vote Tuesday.

The first stage includes a transportation study, with the potential for new attendance assignments to accommodate Town Creek Middle School — now nearing completion — to be approved in February 2020.

Related: Brunswick school board postpones redistricting timeline, the legality of closed session questioned

The second stage involves a system-wide demographic planning study, which could include recommendations for a new elementary, middle, or high school. Brunswick County Schools’ consultant would deliver recommendations by October 2021.

At 19 schools, northern schools are overcrowded, while others are underutilized in the fastest-growing county in the state.

Meanwhile, Belville Elementary School will not see overcrowding relief until the 2022-2023 academic year. With enrollment at 875 students as of Tuesday, Belville Elementary is 45% over Brunswick County Schools’ (BCS) own capacity parameter of 600 students for elementary schools. In March, the school had 838 students.

Two additional modular units will be on site come August to accommodate new students at the school.

Still, BCS Chief Operating Officer Sue Rutledge acknowledged, “a new school may be needed.”

Growth outpacing recent demographic projections

According to a demographic projection update presented to the BCS board in December, enrollment at Belville Elementary will reach 911 students in 2021-2022, the academic year parents could learn new school assignments.

Brunswick County voters approved a $159 million school bond package in 2016. The bond includes funding to construct the $24.5 million Town Creek Middle School, which is expected to open in 2020. It also includes two six-class additions at Lincoln and Town Creek Elementary Schools — to be completed in August — and two 12-class additions at West and North Brunswick High Schools, to be completed in August 2021, with planning now underway.

The new school that may be needed is not included in the 2016 bond.

A demographic projection study completed in December 2018 by McKibben Demographics projects enrollment at Belville Elementary School, Brunswick County Schools' most over-crowded school, to reach 911 students before new school assignments could be decided on, per the board's new redistricting plan. (Port City Daily graphic/Courtesy Brunswick County Schools)
A demographic projection study completed in December 2018 by McKibben Demographics projects enrollment at Belville Elementary School, Brunswick County Schools’ most over-crowded school, to reach 911 students before new school assignments could be decided on, per the board’s new redistricting plan. (Port City Daily graphic/Courtesy Brunswick County Schools)

Growth projections used in framing the 2016 bond show capacity increases at a far slower pace. Those projections predicted Belville Elementary would hold 715 this year.

Two school assignments

Rutledge presented the staff-recommended two-phase process before the board Tuesday. She said Dr. Jerry Oates, BCS’ Superintendent, endorsed the approach.

“Doing it right the first time is what’s going to matter,” Oates said at the meeting. “We don’t want to cause any disruption to families and students. If we have to do it it needs to be just one more time.”

BCS’ new plan creates the potential for new school assignments twice: first, to accommodate Town Creek Middle School coming online with a decision in February 2020; second, after October 2021, when BCS has received county-wide recommendations.

In March, the committee first discussed the potential to re-draw middle and elementary school lines, with the potential for new assignments to go into effect this upcoming 2019-2020 academic year. At a set of public information sessions in March that followed, the board heard heated outcry from the public. Parents voiced concern about the lack of information offered at the information sessions and the rushed timeline to reassign students. During the second meeting, in a potentially illegal closed session, the board voted to delay a redistricting decision.

“Those parents were asking questions that we haven’t covered and we weren’t prepared,” BCS board member Harry Lemon said Tuesday. “Obviously, we were caught cold.”

Board member Gerald Benton voted against the two-phase plan Tuesday. He said he would rather use Rutledge’s in-house lines created in March for new middle school reassignments and hire a consultant to redraw elementary lines this year.

Benton voiced concerns about waiting three academic years until Belville Elementary School could see relief.

In turn, Rutledge explained that the consultants she had worked with could not further speed up a planning timeframe to deliver results before fall 2021.

Lemon, for his part, emphasized the desire to handle the process of redistricting – which is often contentious – as carefully as possible.

“Redistricting kids is a four-letter word,” Lemon said. “So let’s be absolutely correct.”

"Doing it right the first time is what’s going to matter," Dr. Jerry Oates, BCS Superintendent, said Tuesday regarding the schools' new timeline for school reassignments. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)
“Doing it right the first time is what’s going to matter,” Dr. Jerry Oates, BCS Superintendent, said Tuesday regarding the schools’ new timeline for school reassignments. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

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