School board saves Asheville Primary, reverses pre-K plans

Asheville Primary School front
BACK TO SCHOOL: Students at Asheville Primary School will return to the building next school year following a May 24 decision by the Asheville City Board of Education. Photo by Daniel Walton

“Robert would be very ashamed of what we’ve done to his rules,” quipped Asheville City Board of Education member Peyton O’Conner, as the board repeatedly made, interrupted and amended motions during a May 24 meeting. But while the shambolic process may not have conformed to Robert’s Rules of Order, a standard manual of meeting procedure, the final outcome was clear: Asheville Primary School will stay at its Haywood Road location through at least the next school year.

The potential closure and sale of the APS campus had drawn intense community pushback since being initially recommended as a cost-saving measure by Superintendent Gene Freeman on Dec. 7. According to a study presented to the board, the building requires nearly $5.9 million in critical and high-priority capital repairs, and moving school operations to other facilities would save approximately $300,000 per year in personnel costs.

But a petition to save the school building, which houses both preschool classrooms and an elementary Montessori program, gathered over 2,700 signatures. Parents and community members organized a rally outside the school board meeting to protest the move, and over 20 people spoke in opposition during public comment.

“We have found ourselves shockingly faced with uncertainty about the future of our beloved school, with a lack of transparency from leadership and no real opportunities to collaborate with district leaders about our future,” said Wren Cook, mother of two APS students and representative of the school’s Parent Teacher Collective. “We want to keep Asheville Primary School, Montessori and preschool, intact and given a chance.”

The board’s 4-1 decision, with only Shaunda Sandford opposed, would keep the public Montessori program in its current building for the 2021-22 school year, expand classes to include the fourth grade and reopen enrollment in the school for all district students. The board also committed to enrolling fifth grade students in the Montessori program in the 2022-23 school year.

The placement of APS for 2022-23 will be revisited this fall once the district has more clarity regarding its financial situation. On May 11, the system had asked the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners for a $3 million allocation, in addition to its regular $30.18 million local funding request, that could be used for repairs to the building and other preschool needs. That money was not included in the budget County Manager Avril Pinder proposed on May 18.

“All the time and energy that went into this room tonight — that has to go out to City Council and the county commissioners,” O’Conner told meeting attendees. “They’re the ones that have to make this funding piece work.”

In other news

In a separate 3-2 vote opposed by Sandford and Martha Geitner, the board voted to keep all ACS preschool operations in school buildings. The move countermanded an April 21 announcement from district leadership, which said that some preschool classrooms would move into public housing communities.

That plan had generated its own controversy, with existing providers of preschool in public housing neighborhoods concerned that their classrooms would be displaced. ACS leaders had argued that the move would increase preschool access for children of color and help close the district’s worst-in-state racial achievement gap.

Next year will still see some reshuffling of preschool classrooms. The APS campus will host three classrooms, down from its current five, while Ira B. Jones, Hall Fletcher and Lucy S. Herring elementary schools would all gain preschool capacity.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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