Parents, county leaders share concerns over Stumptown Elementary
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – County officials say they will look in to giving early approval to a new Stumptown Road school, after hearing complaints from several Torrence Creek Elementary parents.
Stumptown Elementary ranked 26th on a prioritized list of countywide projects, created through a new county capital project ranking system, despite Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools previously ranking the new school as the fifth most needed district-wide project. County board Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts and Commissioner Karen Bentley assured parents at a Monday, July 11, meeting that they would work to pass an ordinance next spring to approve construction, but the parents told leaders they want a guarantee.
“The elephant in the room is that you have nine commissioners and you have to have five vote in favor of it for the project to go forward,” Roberts told parents.
Voters passed a bond referendum for the school’s construction in 2007, but a lack of funds has delayed any movement on the project. District Associate Superintendent Guy Chamberlain said design plans for the school are complete and district officials “can have a shovel in the ground by May (2012)” if county commissioners approve the ordinance. District and county officials agreed the school should be ready to open in time for the 2013-14 school year.
Because the county is only allowed to spend $100 million a year on capital projects, the board is not scheduled to vote on the school’s construction until next spring. When parents asked if the board could approve the ordinance before then without moving the school up on the county’s list, Roberts and Bentley said they would have to check.
According to Mecklenburg County Finance Director Dena Diorio, the county used to approve construction dollars for the school system, allowing district leaders to spend money where and how they saw fit.
However, the economic downturn in 2009 forced the county to look at other ways to manage capital planning.
Under the new system, the county ranks school projects alongside other county projects, taking into account factors such as:
• Safety hazards created if a project is delayed.
• A project’s financial impact on the operating budget once completed.
• Contractual obligations held by the county.
• The positive economic impact a project might have on the surrounding community.
Roberts said the board’s tabulations are final, despite parent concerns that the ranking system underemphasized safety concerns caused by forcing more than half of Torrence Creek Elementary’s students to attend class inside mobile unit classrooms littered across the campus.
Built for 600 students in 2005, the school now enrolls about 1,300 students. The county used the school district’s own safety score of 0 – meaning it is considered safe – when assessing Torrence Creek Elementary’s safety hazards, Roberts said.
Parent Barbara Fox, who has three children enrolled at Torrence Creek Elementary, said several parents in her Huntersville neighborhood have decided to send their children to other local charter and private schools due to overcrowding and safety issues.
“We’re trying to be loyal to our community school,” Fox said.
Other parents, such as Sharon Vecchiarello, said the mobile units cut students off from academic resources, including the school’s media center. During inclement weather, Vecchiarello said, school officials have to bring all 1,300 students into the building, cutting down on instructional time.
Projects listed ahead of Stumptown Elementary include new schools to replace McClintock Middle, Pineville and Bain elementaries and renovations to Alexander Graham Middle and seven other Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.
Huntersville Commissioner Denae Caulfield raised objections that items such as the Matthews Sportsplex are listed far above Stumptown Elementary.
“We can’t even use our baseball fields out here,” Caulfield said, referring to the several mobile units that cover the school’s field. Roberts said that project ranked high, at No. 15, due to its economic value.
“Maybe the board should re-look at the economic impact versus the impact the school will have on our children,” Caulfield said.
Although the county approved this year’s wave of capital projects at it meeting Tuesday, July 12, Bentley said the board will not likely address the Stumptown Elementary ordinance until at least August.
Bentley releases statement
Read a Letter to the Editor from County Commissioner Karen Bentley on the proposed Stumptown Road school online at www.huntersvilleherald.com. Her letter was submitted after the Herald Weekly’s deadline.