Two different pictures are emerging about the situation taking place at the new Walnut Creek Elementary School.
As noted in today's article, Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata acknowledged that an enrollment cap is needed at Walnut Creek to deal with overcrowding. But Tata, pointing to the additional resources provided to the school, says that Walnut Creek is "on the right track."
In contrast, Cash Michaels calls the overcrowding situation a "crime." He accuses Tata and the Republican board majority "of literally turning their backs on the growing problem there."
"What is happening to Walnut Creek Elementary by the Wake Public School System is a crime and will ultimately hurt the children," Michaels said Thursday on his "Make It Happen" radio show.
The issue here is that Walnut Creek has a campus capacity of 780 students. But the school's growing enrollment is now at 936 students.
Michaels held Tata personally to blame for the crowding situation on Thursday. He charged that Tata's promises to Walnut Creek "continue to be broken."
"The blame for this mess falls squarely on the shoulders of Wake Schools Superintendent Anthony Tata and his staff for allowing the school's student population to swell by almost 20 percent above capacity and it's still going," Michaels said on his radio show. "And the blame also falls in the laps of school board chairman Ron Margiotta, who wanted those Southeast Raleigh children sent back to their neighborhood.
Board vice chairman John Tedesco, who along with Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams, wanted Southeast Raleigh children taken out of East Garner Elementary School which is now, get this, now under capacity as a result. And the other Republicans on the board who failed, deliberately or otherwise, to join Democratic board members Kevin Hill and Keith Sutton in making sure that every safeguard was put in place to make sure that Walnut Creek could properly handle its mission."
Michaels says that a cap should have been put on Walnut Creek sooner. He said "one of my suspicions" is that it wasn't done sooner because it would have meant sending students to East Garner Elementary, which "politically that's not what certain board members want."
(Interviewed on the show is retired educator Marvin Pittman, who has worked to help Walnut Creek. I spoke with Pittman yesterday on another issue and he told me he wasn't aware that it was going to be broadcast on the show.)
During my interview with Pittman on Friday, he questioned why the enrollment wasn't capped sooner.
"Why were so many students placed at the school?" Pittman said Friday. "It shouldn't have gotten to this point."
On Michaels' show, Mark Dorosin, senior attorney for the UNC Center for Civil Rights, accused the school board of creating "separate but grossly unequal" at Walnut Creek.
"Walnut Creek is the canary in the coal mine," said Dorosin, the lead attorney in the Title VI civil rights complaint against Wake. "This is what the future looks like under a plan that doesn't take into account important factors related to diversity, including race, including socioeconomic status and including student proficiency. And not just take them into account, but make them priorities, top priorities in determining where kids go to school."
While not mentioning him by name, Tata addressed at his news conference on Friday the charges leveled by Michaels on his show.
"Part of the reason Walnut Creek is overcrowded is because, like I said, we intended to make it a high-demand school and we were successful," Tata said. "Recall that many were worried it would be an underenrollled school."
For instance, Tata disputed the statement that Michaels repeatedly made Thursday that at least half the teachers at Walnut Creek are first-year educators.
Tata said 37 of the 66 teachers at Walnut Creek have five or more years experience. He said 11 have three or fours experience. He said the remaining 18 are in their first or second year. He said that breakdown "is about normal" for "most Wake schools."
Tata also challenged the questions about class size by saying Walnut Creek has 19 students per class in fifth-grade, 14 students in third- and fourth-grades and 22 students at kindergarten through second-grade.
Tata said they'll hire additional teachers to get K-2 class size down to the original goal of 15 students. But this means that classes being broken up so that students will face a new teacher this late in the school year.
Tata said Walnut Creek is not Wake's most crowded school and doesn't have the highest percentage low-income students, although he said it's among the top in both areas.
Tata repeatedly talked about the additional resources that have been provided to Walnut Creek, which he said have helped make it a "high-demand school."
Tata said that Walnut Creek is getting about $1 million more in resources than a school like Davis Drive Elementary in Cary.
The additional resources have led to features such as a longer school day, smaller class sizes than at most schools, additional technology, a STEM focus and free school meals for all students.
“There’s no other school in this district with this combination of resources and class size,” Tata said.
Tata also blamed the crowding problem on the old assignment system. He said that they were "obligated" to continue to send students to the school who live within the attendance area.
Tata said the new choice plan will allow them to only enroll 115 kindergarten students at Walnut Creek next year, allowing the school "to right size itself."
In terms of who called for the cap, Sutton says he's the one who requested that Tata put it on the agenda.
"In dealing with the population management issues, the school administration has found it challenging to deliver on the academic goals and priorities that the school put in place," Sutton said. "It's a tough situation to deliver on the promises that made it such a high-demand school"
Click here for an updated version of the article in The Carolinian that Cash Michaels wrote about the crowding situation at Walnut Creek.