The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday May 31st

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District sees uneven income distribution

Children at Carrboro Elementary School get lunch in the cafeteria on September 2, 2011. Jennifer Clak takes Lizette Cortez's, age 7, 2nd grade, card.
Buy Photos Children at Carrboro Elementary School get lunch in the cafeteria on September 2, 2011. Jennifer Clak takes Lizette Cortez's, age 7, 2nd grade, card.

As the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district plans for a new elementary school, the growing gap in the number of students who receive free and reduced-price lunches between schools could impact redistricting plans.

The percentage of students within the district who receive free and reduced-price lunches went from 11.2 percent in 2007 to 20.25 percent in 2010, even as per capita income increased.
But that increase wasn’t spread evenly across the system’s schools, based on district data.

Stephanie Knott, spokeswoman for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said that will likely play a role in how maps are redrawn when the school redistricts for Elementary 11, which the district hopes to build for the 2013-14 school year.

“We believe that diversity is a key component of our district,” Knott said. “We would certainly want to ensure continued diversity in all of our schools.”

Unequal distribution

Even though per capita income in Orange County increased 3.6 percent between 2007 and 2009, the number of families receiving food stamps went up about 45 percent over the same period, based on data presented last week at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce State of the Town Address.

Those numbers signal that while income is growing among some groups, the lower-income bracket is widening.

“What that means is that many families in our community have dropped below the income line that makes them eligible for free and reduced lunch,” said Aaron Nelson, president and CEO of the chamber.

But the growth in lower-income families has been concentrated to certain schools.

Some schools, like Estes Hills Elementary School, saw almost no increase in free or reduced-price lunches between 2007 and 2010, according to district data.

But during the same period, Frank Porter Graham Elementary School went from 19.9 percent of students on free or reduced lunch to 38 percent — nearly double.

Carrboro Elementary School saw the percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunches more than triple.

Uncertain solutions

Knott said free and reduced lunch distribution played into the last full redistricting, done before the 2008 opening of Morris Grove Elementary.

“There were some other factors, including proficiency and property values, that attempted to establish socioeconomic balance,” she said.

Kevin Morgenstein Fuerst, coordinator of student enrollment for CHCCS, said the next redistricting will happen when Elementary School 11 is built.

“That’s when we see the biggest change,” Fuerst said.
The school will be needed by 2013 based on district projections.

While the Orange County Board of Commissioners has approved Elementary 11, the district has no timeline for construction, which has been delayed in the past for lack of funds.

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