The current budgetary crisis at Asheville City Schools is one of the ACS Board of Education’s own making, driven by overcorrections in the face of rising enrollment projections. These overcorrections greatly reduced the number of students ACS is serving.
Instead of growing as expected from about 4,500 students in 2016 to nearly 5,000 students in 2021, the district shrank to 4,400 students pre-COVID and 4,100 today. At about $12,000 per student per year, the difference in per-student revenue from federal, state and local funds between the current enrollment and the previously projected enrollment is more than $10 million annually.
The ACS Board of Education overcorrected with policies to curb “out-of-district” enrollment, while restricting attempts to expand capacity. The board hardened the distinction between those who can afford to live within the legacy school district boundaries and those who can’t, selecting against struggling families who have been pushed out of district due to the explosion of vacation rentals and our skyrocketing housing costs.
More than half the population of the city of Asheville now resides outside the legacy Asheville City Schools district boundaries but still lives within the city limits. These Asheville residents are treated as second-class citizens through restricted enrollment and educational resources.
It is past time to significantly update or eliminate the two-tiered enrollment system and officially recognize and figure out transportation for “out-of-district” students who live in Asheville Housing Authority projects and economically depressed areas in the city of Asheville that are locked out of the legacy district boundaries.
In addition to (1) preserving all pre-COVID classrooms in the Asheville Primary School building at 441 Haywood Road, (2) allowing APS to add fourth and fifth grades (they already have the teacher) and (3) declaring a two-year moratorium on school closings and consolidations (to provide the stability that students and teachers need), I also ask that the ACS board to strongly consider (4) ending the two-tier enrollment system for out-of-district families, (5) eliminating the out-of-district fee for city of Asheville residents and (6) offering transportation for families who are economically displaced and nominally “out of district” as a matter of policy. This will help Asheville City Schools serve all of its students, even those facing housing insecurity.
I live inside the legacy Asheville City Schools district boundaries, where it is an ongoing challenge to find rental housing. I do not have a child at Asheville Primary School. I am advocating for all our students as a member of the community who has attended almost all ACS public school board meetings for nearly seven years, more than any current board member.
— Pepi Acebo