No resolution in school overcrowding

by Kelly Corbett
Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Without a bond referendum, New Hanover County Schools Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley said the overcrowding issue at Wrightsville Beach School could be delayed for a maximum of two years.

Seven WBS parents spoke against the proposed redistricting of Airlie Road area students to Bradley Creek Elementary School during the public comment portion of the school board’s regular meeting on March 5. Dozens more parents, many dressed in white to signify unity, attended the meeting.

Markley shared some background about WBS and emphasized the larger overcrowding district issue.

“This is not just a Wrightsville Beach issue,” he said.

All of the surrounding schools — Blair Elementary, Bradley Creek Elementary, College Park Elementary and Ogden Elementary — are overcrowded.

WBS is 101 students over capacity, with 107 students located in the seven classrooms of the main building and 247 students located in the seven mobile units.

Markley presented six options to address the overcrowding issue, including the new options of moving students to BCES from a different area than the Airlie Road area, moving incoming kindergarteners to BCES, extending the lease of the two classrooms at Wrightsville Beach Baptist Church for an additional year or moving the students to Gregory Elementary School.

So far, 35 students have signed up for kindergarten at WBS, and 15 of those students have siblings at the school.

Markley said the kindergarten, or slow draw down option, reduces the overcrowding at the school, but is a much slower process than the other options. He rejected the Gregory option.

“I think this is the most disruptive, honestly, of all of them,” Markley said.

Member Ed Higgins again raised the idea of moving the school across the Heide Trask Drawbridge, possibly to the now vacant Galleria on Wrightsville Avenue. 

The proximity of the Galleria to an ABC liquor store raised concern among members, but member Tammy Covil also said she thought the idea of moving the school across the bridge is worth exploring.

A minimum of 17 usable acres is necessary to build a new elementary school.

Markley said he would not recommend giving the WBS property up in any case, even if another school was built nearby.

Chairman Don Hayes said the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners are looking to postpone the bond referendum, including $6.25 million in WBS renovations, for at least a year. However, no official decisions have been made yet.

New elementary schools, also proposed in the bond referendum, would allow swing space during the construction period of the WBS renovations.

Board member Dr. Derrick Hickey said if the proposed bond referendum fails, he would like to look deep into the New Hanover County Schools budget and possibly ask the commissioners to match any amount put forward.

“Actually what you’re saying is not completely outlandish,” Hayes said, adding that the most recent conversation with the commissioners was along those lines.

More than 550 signatures in petitions circulating in the Wrightsville Beach area were brought to the meeting, not including other petitions circulating in Landfall.

“There are a lot of upset parents here tonight, … but there’s going to be more upset parents down the road if we can’t come up with a long-term solution,” said Haywood Newkirk, an Airlie Road resident and parent of two WBS students.

Jack Kilbourne, a Stokley Drive resident, said WBS is a shining example of a neighborhood school.

“Wrightsville Beach School provides a magic learning environment for these children,” Kilbourne said, citing the school’s marine science program.

Scheduling a public hearing for a request to extend the lease with the church for an additional year will be on the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen’s March 14 consent agenda, with the public hearing being considered for the April meeting.

The school board plans to select one of the six options at the March 19 work session.


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