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Board approves project to construct new elementary school

Would limit overcrowding in Chapel Hill schools

Already suffering from state budget cuts, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools now have to deal with an overcrowding problem as well.

Elementary schools are already overtaxing teachers and high schools in the system could face losing their accreditation if the problem persists, educators say.

As school started last week, 300 more students than the state anticipated enrolled in the system.

More than 200 of these students enrolled at the elementary level with Elizabeth Seawell Elementary and Glenwood Elementary being the most crowded, said Kevin Morgenstein Fuerst, coordinator of student enrollment.

And though elementary schools don’t receive accreditation and can’t lose it, they are bearing the brunt of the problem, Superintendent Tom Forcella said.

Eric Houck, a professor at the UNC School of Education, said large class sizes from overcrowding can place too much stress on teachers.

That can harm the classroom experience of students, he said.
To alleviate the overcrowding, the Orange County Board of Commissioners approved Elementary School 11, a project to build an additional school in Chapel Hill.

The project — which has been delayed in the past because of a lack of funding — will consist of a 100,000-square-foot building for pre-kindergarten to fifth grade.

Forcella said the county has enough funds to begin the process but will need to dip into their reserve budgets to sustain ongoing school programs.

“With the state and national economic down swerve, the ‘rainy day fund’ is eventually going to run out,” he said.

And Bernadette Pelissier, Board of Orange County Commisioners chairwoman, said no budget or timeline has been finalized for the construction of the new school.

However, Forcella said the system is already taking action to accommodate the increased student population.

He said the district has already begun to use mobile classrooms and has redistricted to better distribute students.

Mia Burroughs, school board vice chairwoman, said elementary schools might begin serving lunch at 10 a.m. to deal with the student increases.

When it is built, Forcella said Elementary 11 could go a long way toward providing a more permanent solution to the problem.
He said the additional 500 to 600 spaces will significantly help class sizes.

Houck believes a new school will help but hiring more teachers could be a more effective solution.

Burroughs said the system needs the new space.

“If plans fall through for Elementary 11, it could be very detrimental,” Burroughs said. “Fortunately, I don’t think that’s a possibility.”

She said Orange County government has recognized the district’s need for more space.

“The district has documented that we’re overcrowded and Elementary School 11 will be the solution,” she said.

“I am confident the county commissioners will step up and get the funding going.”

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Overcrowding could also put at risk the accreditation of some high schools, Forcella said.

“Unless they were on the cycle to be visited by the accrediting agency, then it wouldn’t be an issue until the actual visit,” Forcella said.

Pelissier said the education system in Orange County is a priority — the reason education funding wasn’t cut in this year’s budget.
At this time the district is not planning to expand at the middle or high school levels, Forcella said.

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