LUMBERTON — With nine out of 10 student-transfer requests approved for the upcoming school year in the Public Schools of Robeson County, some school board members say the lax policy is causing crowding at destination schools.
During a board retreat held Aug. 6, Shanita Wooten, assistant superintendent of Administration and Technology, said that the county had already received more than 1,500 student transfer requests for the upcoming school year. Few were submitted by the April 1 deadline, Wooten said, but the ones that were not were still considered.
“It is nothing against any of the kids; I want every child to get a good education,” said Dwayne Smith, a member of the school board. “But we’ve got to do something to get transfers under control. It’s just getting too out of hand.”
Smith has for years been a vocal proponent of limiting student transfers. He said the board’s Policy Committee, of which he is a member, will be looking at solutions to what he sees as a problem.
According to the central office, the school board has approved 1,423 of the 1,535 requests that it has received for the 2016-2017 school year to come into or transfer within the district. For the 2015-2016 school year, the board reviewed 1,810 requests.
That means in a system of almost 24,000 students, about 7 percent seek to attend school out of district.
Transfers in Robeson County are reviewed by school principals and the central office, which make a recommendation to the Board of Education, which has the final say.
According to board policy, students can be approved for transfer if they are in an extreme or unusual circumstance that can affect their academic achievement; have a significant physical or mental health problem that can be better accommodated at another school; if they move; if there are safety concerns for the student or others; if a student wants to attend school with a sibling who was already transferred; and if a request is entered for a school with ample space and capacity for the student.
A father of two, Kris Carter said his students should be attending Green Grove Elementary based on where his family lives, but instead attend Pembroke Elementary.
“Test scores for some schools are better than others,” said Carter, who responded to a post on The Robesonian’s Facebook seeking comments on the transfer policy. “I think this is because of better, more experienced teachers. So that’s why I want my children in those schools. Let’s face it, some schools have more resources.”
The schools with the highest transfer requests were Prospect Elementary, with 215, Tanglewood Elementary, with 157, and Littlefield Middle, with 122.
Prospect Elementary School had 932 students at the end of the 2015-2016 school year, whereas Green Grove Elementary School had 221. Green Grove Elementary, which serves Fairmont, is located in an economically-distressed area.
Smith believes parents seeking a transfer for their children are often in search of a better learning environment. He said the key to remedying that is to hire better teachers to get schools across the county “up to standard.”
Other parents who commented on The Robesonian’s Facebook page indicated they wanted their children to be closer to their work place while some cited athletic opportunities.
Prospect is near The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and Tanglewood sits beside Southeastern Regional Medical Center. UNCP and the hospital are among the largest employers in the county.
Mike Smith, a veteran school board member, and Brian Freeman, who joined the board last month, say that sometimes a transfer is genuinely needed, but anything causing crowding should be dealt with.
“I believe the county should tighten up the transfer policy by enforcing the deadline to apply, honoring the principals’ recommendations about transfers and especially putting caps on school capacity,” said Freeman, an at-large board member. “We cannot allow schools to become overcrowded and class sizes to increase.”
The board during its recent retreat explored a few options to reduce student transfers.
Smith floated the idea of charging a transfer fee.
Grady Hunt, the school board’s attorney, indicated there might be a legal hurdle to such a fee. However, General Statute 115C-366.1 says local Boards of Education can charge tuition to students who don’t live in the same state as the school; students who live in the same state as the school, but not within the desired school system district; and students who are 21 years old or older.
Surrounding counties have similar transfer guidelines to Robeson’s, but Cumberland County added a clause that prohibits transfer students from playing sports for the first year of their transfer. The policy also states that any student who transfers to play for a specific school’s sporting team could have their application revoked.
Gabrielle Isaac can be reached at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @news_gabbie.