LINCOLNTON – Growth in the eastern side of the county has been an ongoing concern for members of the Lincoln County Schools Board of Education and administration. And County Manager Kelly Atkins and Planning and Inspections Director Andrew Bryant said those issues are only getting worse during a report on eastern growth and its future impact on schools at the Nov. 6 Lincoln County Board of Education committee meeting.
“You’re going to hear some really good stuff, and then you’re going to hear some not so good stuff,” Atkins told the board at the beginning of the presentation. “At the end of the night, hopefully what you’ll walk away with is more knowledge than you came in here with. This isn’t anything that you haven’t already seen before, but it’s with a twist because we’ve experienced a little bit more growth in eastern Lincoln County than what we have seen in the past.”
Much of the growth that has occurred was anticipated with projects approved in the past decade, but, with the exception of a few subdivisions, the actual development has really transpired in the past 36 months, according to Bryant. Further, much of the growth over the past 12-18 months has been in the Saint James Church Road corridor.
“As you think about a 100-lot subdivision, its impact on the public county school system is approximately 30 students divided up between your elementary, middle and high schools,” he said. “When we start to think about the impact to the charter system, the same size subdivision essentially generates three charter school students.”
Many of the schools in the eastern side of the county are already close to, and some, such as Battleground Elementary and Catawba Springs Elementary, have exceeded capacity. With development in the pipeline, capacity numbers could be far in excess of capacity. For example, Rock Springs Elementary would be at 113 percent and St. James at 120 percent capacity.
“For so long we talked about moving lines as the ultimate problem-solver of all of this,” Bryant said. “As part of the program we’ve been tracking, our overall projected elementary capacity of all schools combined is over 100 percent for the first time since we’ve been tracking it. We’ve hovered below that, but the flurry of new development approvals over the past 12 months has taken that projected capacity above 100 percent.”
Atkins cautioned board members these numbers were projected and that it won’t happen tomorrow – but it’s coming.
“The commissioners are about to embark on a little bit of a different direction with our land use plan,” he said. “What we’re talking about with land use and making good planning decisions is allowing our infrastructure to dictate that. In the past what we’ve seen happening over the years is that development comes in, and we take the infrastructure to them. We’re going to have a plan of action in the future where we want to grow our infrastructure, and development will have to come to us.”
Calendar changes discussed
Over the past several months, board of education members and other individuals have been working toward a revised 2019-20 school calendar which has Lincoln County Schools starting two weeks earlier than usual on Aug. 12. Additional feedback on the proposed changes has been received from stakeholders and various county entities and taken into account throughout the revisions.
“We had 247 emails that came in recently and out of those, roughly 41 percent opposed changing the calendar,” Heath Belcher said. “Primarily they liked the long summer so they supported the traditional summer model due to vacation plans. Approximately 52 percent approved making the changes. The feedback from those understood that exams before Christmas vacation or winter break was important for high school students. They expressed strong value in aligning our calendar with the community college calendar.”
Concerns expressed in the survey included school ending too late, Christmas and Easter breaks being too long, childcare, financial and vacation conflicts and athletics.
The revised calendar will be presented to the board for vote at the next regular Lincoln County Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13. If approved, the calendar will be sent on to state legislators for approval.