Union schools may avoid countywide redistricting

Union County might be spared a controversial countywide school redistricting plan after all.

School board chair Richard Yercheck said Tuesday he expects his group will accept the county commissioners’ surprise $3 million offer to buy 49 mobile units to combat overcrowding. Commissioners on Monday said they made the offer to eliminate the need for countywide redistricting and solve an issue that has been tearing the community apart.

But Yercheck cautioned that even if the board accepts the deal, some amount of redistricting would still be required. And commissioners acknowledged that using mobile units would be a short-term solution.

The school board is considering its first countywide redistricting, a plan that would affect about 5,800 students out of 41,800, or about 14 percent of total enrollment.

“I’m one of nine votes. ... I suspect we’ll take the $3 million and buy the trailers,” Yercheck said. “But we would need to move a smaller number because we have schools that have reached core capacity for safety issues.

“We still have overcrowding issues.”

School board vice chair Marce Savage called the commissioners’ offer “tempting. It’s got my wheels turning.”

Savage, who opposes the redistricting plan, wants to see more details about the trailers’ impact, where they would go and how long it would take to get them in place.

Mobile units are one of the alternatives to redistricting that school officials had identified, and their use could postpone the need for widespread changes in school attendance lines or other alternatives for several years.

But the units do not prevent the district from capping attendance at schools, Yercheck said.

There are safety issues to consider when schools are at or near student population capacity. In the event of a dangerous weather problem, for instance, Yercheck said schools still need to have enough room in their main buildings to safely hold students and staffs from mobile units.

“At some point, there’s no more room for kids to sit” in the main building, he said.

The district currently uses 272 mobile units at 33 of its 53 schools, spokesman Rob Jackson said.

Yercheck said the board needs to see the commissioners’ proposal in writing and have the schools’ staff study the plan. “Historically, everything they send comes with strings attached,” he said.

The school board did not vote on the commissioners’ proposal at its Tuesday night meeting.

Parents’ mixed reactions

For years, some parents left Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools partly because of the constant need to redraw district lines or add mobile units. They departed for seemingly more stable suburban districts like Union’s, but now that district is experiencing a drumbeat of anger from parents over the potential for changing school boundaries.

And parents had mixed reaction to the commissioners’ offer.

David Shaw, who lives near Marvin, said money spent on trailers would be better used to expand existing schools. He favors redistricting as a long-term solution since “growth in this area is not going down.”

Others welcomed the offer as a way to thwart redistricting.

“I think it’s awesome,” Indian Trail parent Terez Biancardi said. “I am telling you nobody wants to be moved.”

Union County, once one of the fastest growing in the country, is still seeing growth with new homes adding to the size of the state’s sixth-largest school district. Some parents worry that redistricting would send their children to lower-performing schools, disrupt their routines or hurt their home values.

Three schools have reached their maximum capacity; the school board capped enrollment in November for Marvin Ridge Middle, Porter Ridge Middle and Kensington Elementary. If there is no student reassignment, a fourth school would be capped next year and four others would approach capping levels.

The school district has implemented smaller-scale redistricting from time to time, most recently in 2008.

Correspondent Jane Duckwall contributed

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