New data shows that Wake County's year-round schools have imbalanced tracks in terms of enrollment, but school administrators say they're working to ease the problem over time.
Handouts from today's Wake County school board facilities committee meeting show that track four is above capacity while tracks two and three are way below their capacity. For instance, track two is operating at 68 percent of capacity districtwide in elementary schools and 44.5 percent in the middle schools.
The capacity figures are based on ideal long-range capacity, which is designed to reduce the number of modulars and mobiles on each campus. The capacity percentages would likely be lower if you base it off annual campus capacity, which takes into account all the temporary classrooms in use.
For the elementary schools, it's 97.1 percent of capacity at track one, 69.4 percent at track three and 108.1 percent at track four.
For the middle schools, it's 98.7 percent at track one, 81.9 percent at track three and 110.4 percent at track four.
The imbalance reflects how some year-round schools have partially or completely collapsed some tracks while overloading more popular ones to meet demand.
It's posed problems for year-round middle schools who at times have forced families to change tracks after the school year has started because track four is too crowded.
During the committee meeting, staff also presented a handout developed last fall to begin balancing out the tracks. Judy Peppler, chief transformation officer, said the year-round elementary principals had sat down with the principal of their feeder year-round middle school to talk about how to better align the tracks.
Christina Lighthall, a senior facilities planner, said they've been phasing in the changes starting this school year with the kindergarten classes.
During the discussion, school board member Christine Kushner said she was surprised how North Forest Pines Elementary's most crowded track is track two, which is at 135.5 percent of capacity. She added that families with two working parents have told her that track two works better for them.
School board member Jim Martin said that the year-round schools didn't really come from the school system but "was pushed" by the county commissioners to cut costs. He questioned whether they're seeing the cost savings.
In theory, a properly balanced multi-track year-round school can hold up to 33 percent more students than a traditional-calendar school. Wake has used the figure of one multi-track year-round elementary school for every three traditional-calendar schools.
Martin also said he had a hard time seeing how Brier Creek Elementary could be at 213.2 percent of capacity on track four this year but only at 13.6 percent on track two.
Lighthall pointed to how, last year, Brier Creek had three classes on tracks one and four, two on track three and none on track two. When I say class I mean trying to get a whole K-5 grade configuration for that track.
The goal is to get the Brier Creek to two classes on tracks one and three and one class on track two. The goal is also to get track four down to two classes this school year and eventually to one class.
Historically, Peppler said principals would make the decision on collapsing a track based on demand. But Peppler indicated that's no longer the case.
Peppler said that principals make track decisions now based on this new coordinated plan. This meant the Brier Creek principal created a track two kindergarten class this year so that in time it will have a full K-5 configuration as the students age forward.
Peppler also cited how the principal of North Garner Middle School, facing eight classes of track four students from the feeder schools, moved a couple hundred students to other tracks.
Kushner said that the flux across the year-round schools shows that all four tracks have some appeal. She said that because multi-track saves money when properly utilized that they need to do a better job of having a conversation with parents about the year-round calendar and the benefits of each track.
“Given our capacity issues that are very vivid to us, we’re going to need four-track year-round schools in parts of the county," Kushner said.
Kushner added that many families like the year-round calendar.
“If you want it, it’s great," Martin responded. "If you’re forced into it, it’s not.”
Martin added that any family that has two or more children who aren't twins will face a calendar mismatch at some point.
School board member Susan Evans, who had requested the analysis, said she can understand that her fast-growing district has the majority of new schools on the year-round calendar. But she added that "the reality is we’re overly penalized with less options."
Evans said the problem is compounded by the lack of year-round middle schools that create a calendar mismatch. She said that more year-round middle schools would allow families to "tolerate" the situation longer.
Evans added that it doesn't make sense for Carpenter Elementary School to be at 221.4 percent of capacity on track four but only 25.2 percent on track two.
Evans said she was glad to get the data.
“I’m glad to hear we’re trying to level some of the tracks out because that’s been one of my concerns that if we have this thing but we are not fully utilizing it on every track, are we accomplishing the efficiency that we hoped to accomplish," Evans said. "If we’re not, then let’s go back to the drawing board. But we probably don’t have enough capacity not to have it."
"It informs our decisions and it informs the greater conversation," Kushner added about the data.
Martin said there seemed to be a point in time when there was the right balance of year-round schools to meet the needs of families without it being forced.
"Since the 2006 bond, in particular, is when more people got forced into year-rounds against their will, I guess for lack of a better word," Martin said. "That’s probably because we built too much in certain places which aggravated the situation."
Martin asked what target percentage might be good to aim for.
Peppler said they may be able to get at that figure as they go through the choice data. She said they're looking at how many families tried to leave a year-round school for a traditional-calendar school, and vice versa. She said they can look for the same thing in the transfer data.
Click here to view Wake's plan for balancing the tracks and the 2012-13 year-round school utlilization by track.
Updated to make it clearer that decisions about collapsing tracks are no longer solely the call of the principal. It's now supposed to be done in coordination with the new plan to balance out tracks over time.