Saturday, May 18, 2024

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Huge, sudden increases in ABSS enrollment announced

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School officials said this week that ABSS enrollment has shown unprecedented, explosive growth in the past four months– up 1,061 students since the beginning of the school year, including 960 students in the past six weeks alone.

The first hint of such rapid enrollment growth came from superintendent Dr. Dain Butler, who told school board members toward the end of their 3½-hour meeting Monday night that enrollment in ABSS schools had increased by “roughly 1,000 students” since first month enrollment figures from the early part of the school year.

ABSS officials told the newspaper Wednesday evening that some of the additional students included among the latest enrollment figures actually attend local private and charter schools, but receive special education (Exceptional Children’s) services through the school system.

School officials subsequently provided updated enrollment data that showed total enrollment had jumped from 22,216 at the beginning of the school year to 22,358 (up 142) on December 6 and then to 23,318 (another 960 students in the six weeks since) on Tuesday (January 23) of this week.

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The discussion on enrollment growth was part of a discussion focused on what Butler described as the need to rezone one middle school, Woodlawn, in order to ease overcrowding there.  [See separate story about proposed rezoning for Woodlawn Middle School in this edition: https://alamancenews.com/supt-recommends-rezoning-for-woodlawn-middle-school/.]

“We are still growing – Mebane especially,” Butler told school board members Monday night.  “This is not going to go away.”

School board vice chairman Donna Westbrooks asked Butler how many of those new students are concentrated in the Mebane area.

“I just know Mebane is a hotspot,” the superintendent responded.

“Over in the eastern part of the county and Mebane, folks, I’m going to just tell you, we’re looking at a mess,” school board member Dan Ingle exclaimed, pointing to the forthcoming Buc-ee’s travel plaza and other projects that have been approved for the Mebane area as the basis for what he suggested would be future growth in the county’s population.

“Between 2010 and 2020, Alamance County had a gain of 20,000 people,” Ingle told his fellow board members.  “When you look at the three [megasites] in the southern part of Alamance, actually right across the line down there [in Chatham, Guilford, and Randolph counties], they’re estimating 100,000 people moving into this area.”

Ingle appeared to be referring to VinFast, a Vietnamese electric vehicle manufacturer that’s planning to build its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Chatham County; Toyota Battery, which is planning to build an automotive battery manufacturing facility in Liberty; and Boom Supersonic, which plans to begin production of supersonic airliners at Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro this year.

“Okay, let’s add Buc-ee’s, two [electric vehicle-related sites], a mega-business over in the eastern part of the county,” Ingle told his fellow board members Monday night.  “There better be some people doing some planning, real quick, ‘cause these schools are going to be overwhelmed.  You’re already starting to see the start of it now. There’ll be a lot more of this going on than we see today.  Get ready, it’s coming.”

According to the 2020 Census, Alamance County grew from 151,437 in 2010 to 171,954, an increase of 20,517.  Alamance County’s growth rate, 13.5 percent, was almost twice the national average of 7.2 percent and significantly above the state’s growth rate of 9.1 percent.

Meanwhile, even more recent, but still preliminary, figures from the Census Bureau put the county’s 2022 population up another 4,399 people, at 176,353.

According to enrollment figures from the school system, the greatest growth has been at Grove Park Elementary School which saw an increase of 82 students in its enrollment, from 396 early in the school year, to 420 on Tuesday.

Other high growth schools were South Graham Elementary, up 71 students; and Eastlawn Elementary School, up 54 students, from 529 early in the school year, to 583 students on Tuesday.  [See nearby chart on growth of individual school enrollments.]

ABSS officials told the newspaper late Wednesday that three new categories of students – 533 migrant, homeless, and other students enrolled via a Comprehensive Exceptional Children (EC) Accountability System (CECAS) – who are included among their latest enrollment totals captures “all students” served by the school system.

“The CECAS [students receive] EC services [but] actually attend area charter and private schools,” school officials told the newspaper, while not elaborating on why those students are being counted among the total enrollment figures for ABSS.

School officials did not offer any explanation for the apparent, dramatic increase in enrollment in just the past six weeks. Nor did they provide more specific details in response to inquiries this week from The Alamance News.

“You’ve been reporting on the recent growth in Alamance County including new housing developments, apartment complexes, industries, etc.,” ABSS public information officer Les Atkins told the newspaper Wednesday.

“Burlington is the fastest-growing city in the Piedmont Triad region, with a population growth of 3.5 percent since 2020,” Atkins said.  “The city of Mebane has tripled in size between 1990 and 2020.  With each new industry announcement…we are impacted.  The rapid growth has led to some capacity challenges for ABSS.”

School officials also hadn’t responded by press time to multiple inquiries from The Alamance News about whether refugee students have contributed to the increase in enrollment in ABSS schools.

While ABSS never responded to the newspaper’s question about this potential aspect of the enrollment increase, other school officials have said that the recent enrollment increase is “somewhat tied to refugees.”

Efforts in late 2022 by Church World Service to resettle refugee families from across the globe, including 114 families that were slated to come to Alamance County, had been projected to add 435 students to ABSS schools during the 2022-23 school year, school officials reported at the time.

[Enrollment trends, by school year (from 1997 to 2023) are shown below.]

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