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School board won’t expand ‘seniors only’ redistricting exemption for 2023-24

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Alamance-Burlington school board members this week upheld their earlier decision to allow only rising seniors to remain at their current high schools once Southeast High School opens and the new high school attendance lines go into effect for the upcoming, 2023-24 school year.

School board members reached that consensus during their latest work session Tuesday afternoon – more than two months after voting 4-3 on December 6 to limit the “grandfathering” option to rising seniors only, despite an apparent desire among the dissenting board members to extend that option to rising juniors, as well.

The renewed discussion about the high school redistricting plan had been listed as an informational item on the meeting agenda for the school board’s work session Tuesday afternoon. No vote was taken; nor was any motion introduced Tuesday to reconsider the earlier decision to limit grandfathering only to rising seniors.


School board majority sticks to December “seniors-only” decision

“We cannot make a decision for a small group that will impact all 22,000-plus students.  We have a new high school that’s 220,000 square feet. That is a phenomenal opportunity. As a board of seven, we have to collectively support the decisions [of the voting majority]. We need to stay the course and move forward.  It’s not just numbers or athletics; it’s about equity, staffing, funding, and our larger vision as a district.”

– School board chairman Sandy Elllington-Graves

 

“You can’t just think about Eastern or Western Alamance High School. You take two years, instead of just one year [to populate Southeast High School and] we’re going to have to go back and redistrict. We stick with seniors, and that’s it; I’m not going to change my opinion.”

– School board member Dan Ingle

“Yes, [if we allowed juniors] we’re going to be over again, and that would negate why we built a school.”

– School board member Donna Westbrooks

[In response to board member Chuck Marsh’s question of whether the board could vote again] “Robert’s Rules of Order says it has to be done by this [prevailing] side. But when you attempt to reconsider something that’s been going on for years, it makes us look bad. We can’t please everybody, everywhere – it just can’t be done.”

– School board member Patsy Simpson


School board member Dr. Charles Parker and vice chairman Ryan Bowden had pressed since the December meeting to reconsider allowing rising juniors to remain at their current high schools in 2023-24 once ABSS had received the results from a survey polling rising seniors about whether they wished to remain at their current high schools.

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Bowden had said two weeks ago that he’d been hearing that some ABSS families were unaware new high school attendance lines would be going into effect in 2023-24.

Meanwhile, digital and hard copy surveys were sent to 490 rising seniors whose attendance zones are changing as a result of the high school redistricting plan that the board adopted in November 2022, ABSS deputy superintendent Lowell Rogers confirmed this week for The Alamance News. The deadline to respond to the survey was last Monday, February 6.

[Story continues below graphs of rising seniors opting to stay put during 2023-24 school year, plus projections for 2023-24 enrollment at seven high schools.]

The survey revealed that 291 out of 490 (or 59.4 percent) rising seniors have elected to stay at their current high schools next year, based on figures provided by ABSS (see accompanying chart). An additional 36 rising seniors who have been redistricted have opted to move to Southeast High School next year, according to ABSS.

School board members reiterated their earlier concerns during a lengthy discussion at their work session Tuesday afternoon.

 

Parker: ‘We owe it to the community to know they’ve been heard’
“I feel like there’s been a lot of public discussion outside of or during board meetings, and we’ve all received emails,” Parker said Tuesday afternoon. “I felt like we owe it to the community to know they’ve been heard, and we’ve discussed it one more time. I also think we should do this quickly as possible because Dr. Butler and the administration have a lot of things to get done.” Parker also acknowledged that his daughter, who is a rising junior currently enrolled at Eastern High School, has been redistricted to Southeast, adding that she’s excited about going to the new high school.


Dissenting school board members still want to change redistricting exemption, but most willing to move on

School board members Chuck Marsh, Dr. Charles Parker, and vice chairman Ryan Bowden.

“I feel like there’s been a lot of public discussion outside of or during board meetings, and we’ve all received emails. I felt like we owe it to the community to know they’ve been heard, and we’ve discussed it one more time. I also think we should do this quickly as possible because Dr. Butler and the administration have a lot of things to get done. . .It doesn’t look like, based on first pass, there would be any problem [with extending grandfathering to juniors].”

– School board member Dr. Charles Parker

 

“Even though I feel one way, and folks feel another way, I respect how you feel. I was telling someone the other day, ‘this has not necessarily been to me about numbers [so much as] what I feel is in the best interest of our kids and what my heart is telling me to do.’ I stand firm on my conviction, but again, I respect how others are feeling about the situation. . . However, I do believe that, when we leave this building tonight, we need to shut this chapter. Let’s move on united.”

– School board vice chairman Ryan Bowden

“Any way for us to have another vote [on who’s exempted]?”

– School board member Chuck Marsh


At the same time, Parker said that, based on his calculations and using projected capacity figures that the board had received Monday night, none of the high schools would be over capacity for two years. “It doesn’t look like, based on first pass, there would be any problem [with extending grandfathering to juniors],” he said Tuesday afternoon.

“If we’re not careful folks, we are going to run into the very same problem,” school board member Dan Ingle responded.

“This has been tough on all of us. When it was first brought to my attention during the campaign, Ryan [Bowden] said, ‘what do you think about juniors and seniors both?’” Ingle recalled that, though he was initially receptive to the idea of giving both rising seniors and rising juniors the option to stay at their current high schools, his initial reaction had violated something he’d promised himself he wouldn’t do, years ago when he was in the General Assembly: make a decision without having all of the facts first.

Ingle also recalled Tuesday that, in 2018, he had been approached by a group of business people who asked him to be the spokesperson for the 2018 education bond referendum, which successfully passed and provided ABSS with $150 million and Alamance Community College with $39.6 million for new construction and renovations. “I did 27 presentations for that,” he said. “Now we are starting to get into situations where we are fixing some of these schools so we’ll at least catch up [with maintenance and expand capacity in order to accommodate enrollment growth].

“You can’t just think about Eastern or Western Alamance High School,” Ingle added. “You take two years, instead of just one year [to populate Southeast High School and] we’re going to have to go back and redistrict. We stick with seniors, and that’s it; I’m not going to change my opinion.”

School board member Donna Westbrooks agreed, telling her fellow board members Tuesday, “Yes, we’re going to be over again, and that would negate why we built a school.”

 

Bowden: ‘Let’s move on united’
“Even though I feel one way, and folks feel another way, I respect how you feel,” Bowden said during the work session. “I was telling someone the other day, ‘this has not necessarily been to me about numbers [so much as] what I feel is in the best interest of our kids and what my heart is telling me to do.’ I stand firm on my conviction, but again, I respect how others are feeling about the situation.

“However, I do believe that, when we leave this building tonight, we need to shut this chapter,” Bowden added. “Let’s move on united.”

“I thought this was over in December,” school board member Patsy Simpson said Tuesday. “We’ve made the decision; we sent out the letters. It’s just the growing pains we’re going through. I agree with Ryan: there’s a lot we disagree about, but you support the decision of the board when we leave this place. We as a board, or any of our staff or employees, need to stop it with this reconsideration. I’m requesting the community to come together and open the doors to children of different cultures, backgrounds, and different abilities to be able to receive them and be excited about them attending.”

 

Marsh: ‘Any way for us to have another vote?’
School board member Chuck Marsh asked during the work session whether there was any way the board could hold another vote on grandfathering.

“I haven’t changed my position,” school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves said Tuesday. “I don’t know that anybody on this side has changed their position.”

Voting at their December 6 meeting to allow only rising seniors the option to remain at their existing high schools for the upcoming school year were: Voting to limit that option to rising seniors were: Ellington-Graves; Ingle; Simpson; and Westbrooks.

Bowden, Marsh, and Parker voted against that motion during the December 6, 2022 meeting.

As Ellington-Graves alluded, any motion to reconsider an earlier decision customarily has to come from a board member who voted with the majority on the original vote.

“Robert’s Rules of Order says it has to be done by this side,” Simpson said in response to Marsh. “But when you attempt to reconsider something that’s been going on for years, it makes us look bad. We can’t please everybody, everywhere – it just can’t be done.”

The school board’s chairman said that she’d told parents who’d called her over the past two months that she’d hoped the board would revisit its decision to allow only rising seniors to remain at their current high schools next year.

However, Ellington-Graves said that, as she learned about the ramifications of also grandfathering rising juniors at their current high schools, the more convinced she became that it was not in the best interest of the school system.

“We cannot make a decision for a small group that will impact all 22,000-plus students,” the school board chairman said at Tuesday’s work session. “We have a new high school that’s 220,000 square feet. That is a phenomenal opportunity. As a board of seven, we have to collectively support the decisions [of the voting majority]. We need to stay the course and move forward.  It’s not just numbers or athletics; it’s about equity, staffing, funding, and our larger vision as a district.”


 

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