School Board seeks middle ground on crowding fix

By on February 25, 2013

A class at Manteo Elementary School. (DCS)

A class at Manteo Elementary School. (DCS)

The Dare County Board of Education is paring down a plan to add more space to overcrowded Manteo Elementary School with the hope that a cheaper price tag will motivate county commissioners to OK the project.

BOE Chairman Ben Sproul said an expansion is the best solution to capacity issues that have plagued the Roanoke Island school since 2008. With a student population of 734, the building is over capacity by 141 students.

“The best option is to add capacity where we need it, and based on what we have now and on long-term growth projections, we need it,” Sproul said.

A second option, if an expansion project fails, would be to adjust attendance lines so that a portion of Manteo students are moved to Nags Head Elementary.

“This need is not going to go away,” Sproul said. “If we move attendance lines now, we’d still have to build something a few years from now and possibly have to move attendance lines a second time. To build now is the smart thing to do.”

Superintendent of Schools Sue Burgess concurred, saying during an interview that Roanoke Island and Manteo are two areas of the county that have seen the most growth during the past five years. And with construction of a new bridge over Oregon Inlet project pending, she added that more families will likely relocate to the area.

“Where we really need more capacity is on Roanoke Island,” Burgess said.

The expansion plan, scratched from the board’s Capital Improvements Plan last May, is now getting a second look by a committee of board members, an architectural consultant and school officials. If it moves forward, the project would likely include between six and eight classrooms.

The original project proposed in 2008 was slated to cost anywhere between $2 and $5 million, but Burgess said the committee is working to keep costs as low as possible and still have a facility that meets the needs of students.

Expansion of core facilities would likely not be included in the new estimate.

“I think we know that if we don’t stay at the lower end of that estimate, it’s not going to work,” the superintended said. “The committee is also looking at where an addition would be constructed and what type of construction would be the least disruptive to everyday activities at the school.”

The cheapest, fastest construction project would include a separate, stand-alone wing.
If commissioners vote not to support the project, education leaders will then look at adjusting attendance lines, Sproul said.

Such a shift has been discussed by the board in the past and would likely include moving roughly 140 Manteo students to Nags Head Elementary and 150 Nags Head students to Kitty Hawk Elementary School.

Educators have been reluctant to bus elementary school children across the bridge.

Regardless of what avenue the Board of Education pursues, it would be at least another full school year before Manteo Elementary sees any relief. But Burgess said the staff has been coping well with the limited space by using creative scheduling and extra personnel.

Sproul said once the board arrives at a plan and cost it is comfortable with, it will go to a committee of the county’s Board of Commissioners and ultimately commissioners will have to vote on whether to fund the project.

“We are in a very delicate phase right now,” the chairman said. “We are going though the plan with a fine-toothed comb to come up with a project to fill the need we have without breaking the bank,” Sproul said.

In the end, Sproul says solving the overcrowding issue at the elementary school comes down to equity.

“Some kids have less space to work and that isn’t equitable,” he said. “This would ensure everybody’s child has a similar level of educational opportunity.”

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February 26, 2013 6:46 pm

Mabel’s right.
I didn’t realize that the cost of a building reflected what goes on inside. We are talking about proper use of funds. Lets look at Currituck County Schools – if you want to compare apples to apples. Currituck County gets alot less local,state and federal $$ per year (see Jon’s link for funding) and their EOG/EOC test score ranking put them at 36th in the state. Dare County Schools is ranked at 48. Fact check this at EOG/EOC test scores represent the entire school system, not just those that are taking SATs.
Currituck spends less $$ building new schools and more of their funding marrying technology and education. Not just in teaching, but in administration as well. The results speak for themselves.
You really want to see the difference check out DCS website and CCS website – and Dare county should be ashamed of themselves for the lack of oversight in our schools.
Did you know that Manteo Elementary school tested below state average this year?



February 26, 2013 12:11 pm

Enough is enough with building more. Use what you have.
So the line in the sand needs to be moved. Why bring more debt at a time when property values are declining.


February 26, 2013 8:36 am

Of course nonresidents can’t vote, so why do we cater to them keeping their taxes low (our rate is among the lowest in the state, although Currituck is still lower) while our children attend an overcrowded school?

I attended overcrowded schools almost the whole time; classes in trailers and lunch lines so long you didn’t have time to eat. That was in a county with an effective property tax rate four times (higher rate, higher values) higher than Dare has. I don’t want that for my kids–who don’t attend MES, but I don’t want that for MES students either. I figure it would cost me less than $20 per year to fix the problem.

Then we could talk about the deferred maintenance on all of the schools, that bill will come due eventually and it will be more expensive than funding the maintenance when it was requested.

It doesn’t really matter to the kids at MES whose fault a ten-plus-year old capital improvement plan was. Most of them hadn’t been born yet. The facts that matter today are MES is overcrowded, the BoE requested the funding years ago, and the expansion is overdue. Maybe the county thought the collapse of land transfer tax revenue in 2008 was temporary, but the good times aren’t coming back anytime soon.

As for stats, Dare is not #1 in local per-pupil funding, most years we are behind Asheville and Chapel Hill. Stats here:

Consider overall that NC is #45 in the nation in funding schools, so we don’t want to fall to the bottom of the in-state ranking.

For example, in graduation rates Dare is #4 in the state, Pasquotank is in the bottom half. Dare’s average SAT scores are 100 points higher than Pasquotank’s, with 75% of Dare students taking the exam, vs. 55% in Pasquotank. So I don’t necessarily want Dare to emulate what Elizabeth City does.

A Citizen

February 25, 2013 10:08 pm

Instead of spending money, the county should go to the solution it already has. Send the kids to Nags Head then shuffle the lines to send some kids to First Flight and Kitty Hawk. Many school districts send children over bridges every day,. Heck the kids that live on the mainland in Stumpy Point and East Lake go across bridges over a mile long. Why are a few that currently live in Manteo so special. Nags Head middle school and High School students travel over the bridge in the opposite direct to go the Manteo Middle and High School. Otherwise this is an unneeded, waste of taxpayers money.


February 25, 2013 8:27 pm

There should not have been a need for an expansion pack if they built the school big enough. Dare County has spent over 148 million dollars in the construction of new school buildings in the last 10 years. What happened to redrawing the school lines? Did you know that Elizabeth City built a high school twice the size of First Flight High School for the same price? This is simply poor planning AND LACK OF OVERSIGHT. Lets not forget that Dare County ALSO funds Dare County Schools budget to the tune of $20 million dollars EVERY year. This $20 million excludes any capital improvements funding. More than any other county contribution to the school system in the state.


February 25, 2013 8:16 pm

Also Jon, nonresident owners don’t vote in Dare County, you can only vote in the legislative district you are a permanent resident of (at least that’s how it’s supposed to work).


February 25, 2013 8:13 pm

Jon, it’s very poor planning. These schools aren’t even 10 years old and they are overcrowding. When we voted on the school bonds in the early part of the last decade and spent millions of dollars to build or revamp the county’s schools, it was supposed to fix this issue, but apparently not.


February 25, 2013 3:46 pm

The BoE didn’t plan poorly; they requested an expansion back in 2008 which hasn’t been funded by the Commissioners.

It’s a mystery to me that nonresident owners who have no vote hold 58% of taxable property value in the county and yet we residents who hold only 42% don’t vote to relieve overcrowding at our children’s schools.


February 25, 2013 1:24 pm

When the new MES was built, it was built at the same size as the existing school. Seems like poor planning is finally starting to catch up to the County.


February 25, 2013 7:48 am

How do you plan so poorly

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