CHAPEL HILL- Each year around this time, school officials sign off on the annual SAPFO report, which analyzes student enrollment and estimates the need for new facilities.
And although the school board on Thursday approved this year’s report without hesitation, board members agree that it may be time to review the way student generation rates are calculated.
Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the school board that recent projections have not been accurate, in part because new developments don’t fit the model currently in place.
“Some neighborhoods like Chapel Watch Village, Chapel Hill North, and the multi-family units at Winmore and Claremont- before they were completed they’d already exceeded the anticipated generation rates for new students,” said LoFrese.
SAPFO stands for Schools Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. It’s an agreement between the school systems, towns and counties to use planning data on new residential development to project school enrollment before a permit is issued. If the projections exceed school capacity, SAPFO calls for a delay on construction until new facilities are in place.
But the decade-old ordinance is under fire from several directions. School officials in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district are seeing higher than expected student generation rates from new apartment complexes, while Orange County officials say growth in Mebane is skewing their numbers, as the town is not a party to the SAPFO agreement.
And a recent N.C. Supreme Court ruling may take the teeth out of the ordinance, by prohibiting the towns from withholding permits to developers on the basis of SAPFO numbers.
With all this in mind, Chapel Hill-Carrboro School board members want the county to consider a study to review how the SAPFO ordinance is working.
A full review could cost as much as $100,000, while a report focused only on student generation rates would cost about $40,000.
Annetta Streater said it might be worth the cost to look at the bigger picture.
“Since both the districts are interested in trying to get more accurate information, I just wonder is it wise to go ahead and pursue a comprehensive study, versus just this one piece related to the student generation rates,” said Streater. “Given our past challenges in being able to use this data, to just extract one piece doesn’t really give us all that we need.”
Current SAPFO projections call for a new middle school for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro district in 2017, but LoFrese said if county commissioners decide to find the Culbreth science wing expansion this year, it will increase capacity and delay the need for a new school by two years.
Jamezetta Bedford reiterated the need for the expansion, saying the current classrooms are unacceptable.
“It’s not just an addition,” said Bedford. “There is no water in those rooms. They are inadequate spaces. They shouldn’t be called science labs; they’re just long hallway room that science is taught in.”
The county commissioners will consider funding for the Culbreth science wing at a budget work session on May 9th.
The SAPFO report will be forwarded to county commissioners for review later this month.