The Overlook with Matt Peiken

Asheville City Schools' Deficit and Decisions | Greg Parlier of Mountain Xpress

March 18, 2024 Matt Peiken Episode 141
Asheville City Schools' Deficit and Decisions | Greg Parlier of Mountain Xpress
The Overlook with Matt Peiken
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The Overlook with Matt Peiken
Asheville City Schools' Deficit and Decisions | Greg Parlier of Mountain Xpress
Mar 18, 2024 Episode 141
Matt Peiken

Just last week, Asheville City Schools voted to merge Montford North Star Academy into Asheville Middle School. The move will reduce the district’s $4.5 million budget shortfall by as much as half, but it also raised a lot of anger, sadness and questions from affected parents. 

My guest today is Greg Parlier, a reporter who covers education for the Mountain Xpress. We look backward and forward at this decision, along with underlying trends that loom large for public schools everywhere. We talk about the impacts of charter and private schools, where things stand with a potential merger of Asheville City Schools into Buncombe County Schools and the troubled history of Asheville City Schools around issues of equity.  

SPONSOR: Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance returns for one weekend only with the premiere of "Before the Scream." Performances are July 25-27 at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts.

Wake Up, Asheville! and ¡Despierta Asheville!  (in Spanish) are new morning newscast podcasts that give you all the local news you need to know in under five minutes. Both are free to subscribe/follow wherever you get your podcasts!

Support the Show.

Support The Overlook by joining our Patreon campaign!

Advertise your event on The Overlook.

Instagram: AVLoverlook | Facebook: AVLoverlook | Twitter: AVLoverlook

Listen and Subscribe: All episodes of The Overlook

The Overlook theme song, "Maker's Song," comes courtesy of the Asheville band The Resonant Rogues.

Podcast Asheville © 2023

Show Notes Transcript

Just last week, Asheville City Schools voted to merge Montford North Star Academy into Asheville Middle School. The move will reduce the district’s $4.5 million budget shortfall by as much as half, but it also raised a lot of anger, sadness and questions from affected parents. 

My guest today is Greg Parlier, a reporter who covers education for the Mountain Xpress. We look backward and forward at this decision, along with underlying trends that loom large for public schools everywhere. We talk about the impacts of charter and private schools, where things stand with a potential merger of Asheville City Schools into Buncombe County Schools and the troubled history of Asheville City Schools around issues of equity.  

SPONSOR: Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance returns for one weekend only with the premiere of "Before the Scream." Performances are July 25-27 at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts.

Wake Up, Asheville! and ¡Despierta Asheville!  (in Spanish) are new morning newscast podcasts that give you all the local news you need to know in under five minutes. Both are free to subscribe/follow wherever you get your podcasts!

Support the Show.

Support The Overlook by joining our Patreon campaign!

Advertise your event on The Overlook.

Instagram: AVLoverlook | Facebook: AVLoverlook | Twitter: AVLoverlook

Listen and Subscribe: All episodes of The Overlook

The Overlook theme song, "Maker's Song," comes courtesy of the Asheville band The Resonant Rogues.

Podcast Asheville © 2023

Matt Peiken: Asheville City Schools voted 5-2 to merge Montford North Star into Asheville Middle School starting next school year. Can you talk about the implications of this vote? 

Greg Parlier: Yeah, I just want to set the scene just a little bit for you the meeting was so intense. It was probably the most intense emotional full meeting room of any kind of government body that I've ever been a part of.

Matt Peiken: What made it so intense? 

Greg Parlier: People, especially around here, but people are very proud and attached to their schools that their children are going to. And with Montford North Star, in particular, they're STEAM based, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

Project based, really unique school. They intentionally kept the school overall enrollment low, so that students that maybe felt overwhelmed in a bigger school setting like Asheville Middle School has could have better relationships with their teachers and their other students and you could know everybody.

They did a lot of projects, like recently where the kids led a trolley tour around Asheville showing what youth centric things that could be done around town. And then they went to Cherokee recently. They did all kinds of unique things at the school, and so that's part of it, but also just the parents and the community at that school are really passionate about how the school has been run and what it's doing.

So they were really engaged in this whole process, and the whole thing happened quite fast. Essentially, Montford is closing with this merger.

Matt Peiken: You said it happened fast. Yeah. When was it even first proposed that this merger happen? 

Greg Parlier: The first time it was talked about in a public meeting was back in November when the school district, which is facing a four and a half million dollar budget shortfall next year, that, that number didn't even come out until January. But in November, the superintendent who is in her first year at Asheville city schools, identified what she called a confluence of challenges, this long list of issues, expiring COVID funds, declining enrollment, meaning less money coming from the state.

Those two things alone presented some big financial challenges, and also there, the schools in the district, this is an older district, have had some capacity. A lot of schools are around 50 to 60 percent capacity in their buildings, so she saw an opportunity to potentially move some things around, do some reconfigurations to better make use of the space the district has.

And the easiest, the most obvious possibility for her was to consolidate the middle schools. 

Matt Peiken: So the school district was facing a four and a half million dollar deficit, right? And that this was going to save how much money? 

Greg Parlier: This move that was just approved, she projects 1. 8 to two and a half million dollars will be saved. So not even the whole thing, but a significant chunk of that gap.

Matt Peiken: Now, Some cities have districts where you are told what school you go to based on where you live geographically, that you don't have a choice. Asheville is not such a district. You can send your student, your child anywhere, correct?

Greg Parlier: And that's how Buncombe County Schools, the bigger district surrounding, operates. But the Asheville City Schools is a district of choice, so to speak, and each of the elementary schools, for example, have a little bit different focus, and anybody that lives within the Asheville City District can choose which of those focuses and environments they'd like to send their child to.

Matt Peiken: How old was Montford North Star School? 

Greg Parlier: Not that old. 2017 was its first year and there was a number of things that happened right in that 2015 to 2017 era of Asheville City Schools that have Had a huge impact and was a big part of this decision actually. 

Matt Peiken: This school you said Parents sent their kids there because they felt that the learning environment was going to be more Alignable to their kids in a certain way.

It was a STEAM school. In a way since it was so new Was it operating, even though it's part of Asheville City Schools, but it sounds in some ways like a charter school. It's a small, intentionally small enrollment school, which had a specific focus. Am I wrong in drawing that comparison? 

Greg Parlier: It's a reasonable comparison, and that's how Asheville City Schools sells itself, that it has this district of choice.

The five elementary schools people can choose, and also they had two middle schools. Montford North Star being the kind of smaller project based, STEAM focus. And so it did operate with a little bit of independence in that way, but certainly operated as a public school would with the oversight and financial challenges.

Matt Peiken: Now the parents, you said they feel as they would in any school district or most school districts, they are very defensive about their school and they chose that school deliberately. What else was contributing to the rancor, to the emotion that was behind this Did they feel that asheville city schools is not looking at other options to help trim the deficit?

Are there other proposals on the table that are just not getting the same Weight as closing that school?

Greg Parlier: Parents largely felt everything moved way too fast. They felt like this was proposed and they would like to see other options such as the central office potentially being used as a school.

There's also the recent history of Asheville Primary School closing in 2021 which was a early elementary primary school in West Asheville that was closed under similar circumstances. The facility there needed a ton of repairs, over six million dollars I believe to continue as a school, and the board at the time chose to close it and send those kids to the other schools rather than ponying up that amount of money.

So that played a role in the anger too. 

Matt Peiken: Let's talk about the deficit. What are the reasons behind this? You've alluded to declining enrollment. Is this a long trend in Asheville? Is this happening in a lot of school districts? Give us some larger context to why Asheville City Schools is four and a half million dollars in the hole.

Greg Parlier: The enrollment, obviously the biggest part, and interestingly, I said Monford started in 2017. This is an important point. Monford was started and they started talking about opening it in 2016 because that was the peak of Asheville City Schools enrollment. It was 4, 600 at the time, and at the time, projections of enrollment for the district were going to keep going up.

And at that point, At this time, there were supposed to be an extra thousand or so students in Asheville City Schools. Therefore, they felt like they needed another middle school and wanted to look into opening it. That's why they opened Montford. Since 2016 2017 school year, it has drastically declined in Asheville City Schools.

Over the same time period, Buncombe County Schools had also been ticking down in enrollment, but last semester, for the first time, Since that time Buncombe County has leveled off and actually grew slightly in enrollment. 

Matt Peiken: Buncombe County Schools handles more of the rural schools, correct? Asheville City Schools is core of Asheville.

What is this saying about Asheville's population, because you would think, once kids are in elementary school, that schools would be able to somewhat accurately project what their enrollment's going to be. These kids, X percentage of kids are going to stay in the district and age with us and go through their school years with us.

What was happening demographically? Shifts, moving people moving away from Asheville. We've heard nothing but Asheville keeps seeing more people population growth. Why are Asheville city schools in particular seeing a decline in enrollment? 

Greg Parlier: So it must be mentioned that the district is not even Complete with an enrollment and capacity study that was commissioned back in November to look at this issue in particular.

So that is still ongoing, but what the superintendent has said at recent meetings and several teachers that have a long view of Asheville City Schools district that I've spoken to for these stories say that A lot of it has to do with it's more expensive to live in the district, Families are being forced to leave the actual core moving out to the county to more affordable housing, and also Birth rates are down in across the country.

So that is something that the superintendent has cited on multiple occasions. 

Matt Peiken: Right, but the birth rates don't affect people already born and already in the schools, right? If you're starting kindergarten with x number of students you would think 90 percent of them will continue with us in first grade.

I just put that figure out there. It's not from schools It's from me, But then 90 percent of those would move on to second grade with us and so on and so forth You're saying you're seeing drops. Is this across ages from kindergarten through high school? Are we seeing drops in enrollment?

Greg Parlier: Yes, lowest amount of drop is at the high school level, for Asheville City Schools in particular. There are less, for example, other options for high schools. Certainly, charter and private school enrollment has played a role, and enrollment for both of those categories are up. 

Matt Peiken: Let's talk about charter and private schools.

What's happening there in terms of movement? Charter schools are public schools, but they're operated differently. What's happening in terms of kids moving from Asheville City schools or Buncombe County schools over into charter schools or private schools? 

Greg Parlier: It appears that's happening. There's no direct data to show exactly where kids are going once they leave the public school district. Hopefully this enrollment study is gonna give us some clarity on that, that Asheville City Schools is doing actively right now. But all you can do is look at trends and you see the decline from both the public school districts in enrollment, especially Asheville City, and the charter school and private school enrollments ticking up.

And there is an increase in school options for people recently. A few charter schools have been added over the last few years, including one right after the Asheville primary school closure in West Asheville that parents often cite What could happen if more schools are closed? 

Matt Peiken: I can't help but think some of this is fueled by the state legislature, which seems very motivated to increase the level of private school vouchers available, and the effect of that would be siphoning kids from public schools into private schools.

What are you seeing from the state legislature that would be supporting that There's more of a push toward private school vouchers. 

Greg Parlier: Certainly last year, the opportunity scholarship is what the state calls it. But essentially it's a private school voucher program and they have increased it, that passed last year.

And I can't remember the dates now at the top of my head. I want to say it's 2030. It will continue to increase To over 500 million in the state going to private vouchers programs. And what's interesting about that change, too, is not only are they increasing the total amount that parents sending their kids to private schools can receive these vouchers to send their kids to private schools.

Not only is that number going up, But also people that have already sent their kids to private school, therefore, they have figured out a way to afford to send their kids to private school can apply and receive the vouchers now, as well. Basically, we're writing checks to people that are already sending their kids to private schools.

Matt Peiken: That's really maddening in the sense that you're saying 500 million by 2030. What percentage of the state education budget does that represent? 

Greg Parlier: Oh, gosh. I can't remember. 

Matt Peiken: That's okay. But what can you give us? Is it a fraction? Is it a small portion? Is 500 million a significant amount? That doesn't seem like a small amount to me. 

Greg Parlier: It's not a small amount. I don't want to speak to a percentage or anything. But local education leaders are pretty infuriated by that bill being passed. And it shows the mindset of the state too, to move us away from public school funding.

And of course, this is all with the backdrop of us having a Republican candidate for governor right now that has said in public that he wants to completely defund the department of public instruction and do away with it completely. 

Matt Peiken: Even as it is now, as money is being siphoned away from public education, and tell me if I'm wrong in this, that the vouchers in no way, quote, pay for a private education. For instance, if you're a family that is below the median income And you have two kids, these vouchers would not be enough of a bridge To then attend private school, right? So it gives to the haves and but not enough to the have nots.

Greg Parlier: Even with the massive increase in how much money is going to these programs, you're right, a lot of private schools are double or more the tuition that would be provided by a voucher. 

Matt Peiken: Meanwhile, let's get back to some of the budget woes. How much of that is playing into the talks of merging Asheville City Schools with Buncombe County Schools? This has been a topic for a little while. I've talked with members of both school boards who are waiting to see what happens. What's your take on this on why this would happen and what would be the impact of that?

Greg Parlier: Obviously there's a feasibility study ongoing right now to look specifically at what the impacts would be for the local school districts. But it's quite complicated, and how the funding would change is, I'm really interested to find out more, but as far as students and enrollment and a lot of Public school parents, especially at Asheville City, have talked a lot about wanting to send their kids to charter schools if anything changes.

And closing middle schools or merging with a larger district are changes that they would run from. They feel like in a smaller district like Asheville City, they have more control and more relationships with district leaders, and that's something that is really special to them, and they want to keep.

And the more I've covered Asheville City Schools, I've come to understand that more. When I first started covering schools, I thought, yeah there's a central office for both districts. That seems redundant. The fact that Asheville City Schools has such an issue educating its black and brown students, for example, much more so than Buncombe County, Even in a more urban setting and yet also is a special taxing district that gets more local funds than the county school district is hard to justify in my head.

So when I initially started covering it, it felt like a no brainer and it might still be best for the districts and the students at large. But I'm coming to understand more why people find Asheville City Schools to be so special and an intimate setting. 

Matt Peiken: Can you talk a little more about that? What have you learned that is specifically, anecdotally or observationally that has shifted your view on that? 

Greg Parlier: Just this situation with Montford North Star and talking to all these different parents and attending school board meetings that are almost always packed at Asheville City. There's just this ability of a smaller district to be a little more creative.

Just the fact that it is this district of choice with elementary schools that parents can choose. There's a lot of value in that and being able to understand your child and be able to send your child to a situation that makes the most sense for them. 

Matt Peiken: Why do you think, and you mentioned, and I'm paraphrasing here, but you said Asheville City Schools is struggling with how it educates black students. What are you seeing there or not seeing? What's happening that is this friction point? 

Greg Parlier: I think there's a historical story that really shows, and I'd love to share it with you if you don't mind. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah, of course. And I want to tell listeners that, Greg, you are starting to work on a story about the history of educating black students in Asheville City Schools, and that's something that will appear in April in Mountain Xpress. Talk a little bit about what you're finding in your reporting. 

Greg Parlier: And amazingly it goes back to this Montford North Star campus. Before Montford North Star, which started in 2017, started at the Montford campus, which is right on Montford Avenue, just across the bridge from downtown, across 240.

It, for 10 years, was known as the Randolph Learning Center. Still an Asheville City Schools school, but an alternative school, predominantly serving black students. Back then, it was still a school of choice that anybody could send their kids in the district to, and it served middle and high school students.

It was also project based, really similar to how Montford North Star presents itself, but it really focused on real world issues and educating kids less in the textbook but more with projects and hands on learning. By all accounts of all the teachers that I've talked to and I've heard in meetings talking to this school, it was wildly successful.

And they felt they were actually reaching students. A lot of students also were sent from Asheville High School or Asheville Middle School if they were really struggling, getting suspended often, or just struggling in the traditional school setting. And they went to this Montford school called Randolph Learning Center and teachers have talked about how they think they've saved lives, literally, by students who came from really difficult backgrounds, lived in public housing or didn't have active parents at all, living with their grandparents, whatever the case may be and really thrived at a setting like this.

Now, the tragedy of what I think illustrates how the district has treated black students over the years is in 2015, the district decided to move that school away from the Montford campus because Isaac Dixon Elementary School and nearby elementary was being renovated and needed a temporary home.

So they moved this elementary school in and where did they send the students of Randolph Learning Center? They sent them to trailers on the south side of town at what is now the Wesley Grant Southside Center. Those trailers, they lasted for one semester in the trailers because they were moldy, leaky, according to all the teachers that were there at the time.

It was a disaster. Derek Edwards is the principal of Asheville High School now. He's been around for a long time, and he recently told the school board at a meeting last week, it's by far the worst thing that's ever happened in his tenure at Asheville City Schools. 

Matt Peiken: What a blatantly racist decision, too.

You're saying that this school was predominantly black students, they were thriving there, when students at a predominantly white high school school needed a new campus. They made the choice instead of moving those kids to the trailers, they displaced the kids who were already established at a school.

And this is just in 2015 this happened. That's like yesterday. Yeah. What's changed in our history here? It seems like the rise of charter schools in some ways, Is a response to crap like that happening. You look at the PEAK Academy, Which is thriving and the founders of that school look if we can't count on Asheville city schools To treat us well and to educate our kids responsibly and Ethically and ethnically, we're going to do it ourselves and they're thriving.

Do you think that kind of behavior, this sort of blindness or not, if not blindness, willful blindness, is partly responsible for the rise of charter schools? 

Greg Parlier: It would be hard to argue with. And I've talked to Dr. Mullen, who is on the board at PEAK Academy and also the chair of the Reparations Commission right now. And, he's talked about the reason Peak was founded was because of this achievement gap and this type of thing happening in Asheville City Schools was why they decided to take it into their own hands. 

Matt Peiken: Now, this is only nine years later. Yeah. What sort of systemic changes have Asheville city schools made in the way they administer schools, the way they Staff them with superintendents and who's the leadership in the in their schools. What's changed? 

Greg Parlier: The leadership is key. Maggie Fehrman was hired in July of last year. She's the seventh superintendent in the last 10 years at Asheville City Schools. That's an unbelievable fact. Turnover rate is ridiculous. So there's been no continuity in leadership. And people that have been in the district for a long time point to that as Without continuity, a new superintendent comes in with the best intentions, but has slightly different priorities.

And everyone has to have this adjustment period to how the leadership changes. They all say that they've tried to close this achievement gap between black and white students in particular, which was the worst in the state in 2017 and hasn't gotten any better. But with Dr. Fehrman, to her credit, she has been talking a lot and looking at this issue a lot. And I think that story about Randolph Learning Center had a big piece of why the district was pushing to close Montford North Star in order to get this other alternative program, the Education Career Academy, which I haven't mentioned yet.

Matt Peiken: Yeah, I was just going to ask you about that. So let's talk about that because from what I understand, the education and Career Academy. It houses only 32 students right now, right? That seems like that's two classrooms of students. What's the significance of this school?

Describe this school and where it is and what purpose it serves. 

Greg Parlier: So it's technically not a school, it's a program right now because since the Randolph Learning Center, which after the trailer mishap was eventually disintegrated into the rest of the schools because it didn't have a home. And after all of that happened, the district under different leadership tried a couple of times to start a new alternative school, modeling after the Randolph Learning Center, but admittedly smaller.

So now Education and Career Academy is the latest version, and it has about 30 students and it's a program that is right now only serving high school students that are really in trouble. Getting suspended a lot or have trauma in their lives and they're basically taking those kids away from the high school setting, putting them in a different place and giving them really focused attention outside of the distractions of a giant school like Asheville High School.

Matt Peiken: Are kids placed there or is this voluntary? 

Greg Parlier: Right now kids are placed there or yeah, basically sent there from the high school. 

Matt Peiken: Is this seen as a stopgap measure before they are just dropping out of school or sent to a correctional facility?

Greg Parlier: Yeah, exactly. They're trying to prevent dropouts and they're trying to get kids graduated and this is like a kind of almost a last resort type of thing.

Matt Peiken: So what's the movement happening? What do proponents of this or advocates want to see happen to ECA? Do they want to see a dedicated campus? What are they trying to do? 

Greg Parlier: They absolutely need a new space. Dr. Randall Johnson is the director of it right now, and he is been pleading with district leadership for their own space right now.

They're in the Eddington center on. It's on Livingston Street on the south side of town, which is owned by the city of Asheville's Housing Authority. They have a lot of other programs, and they do a lot of great stuff in the community there, but it's not set up to be a school. And they have after school programs there, so the school gets kicked out at 2pm every day.

Matt Peiken: The Eddington Center is a former school. 

Greg Parlier: Right, But right now, there's so many programs and after school care and community centers. Non profits that operate out of there. Non profits. There's just not really room there to actually have, they're sharing space. 

Matt Peiken: And when you're talking, let's reel it back to the budget woes, four and a half million dollar deficit, the closure of Montford North Star will save maybe 40 percent of that, but still a deficit.

When you're talking about those things, how can any of these needs happen until this debt deficit closes, anything they try to do will just add to the deficit. Are there any talks around a referendum? Anything to bring this issue to voters saying we need more money for our schools, and we can't just do it by attrition just by cutting? Is there any talk of that of which would go to people like me property taxes? What talk, if any, is happening around that?

Greg Parlier: I'm not sure. At the District level, the only choice they really have is to plead with the county commission. The county commission is the one who can pass these things and is in control of all the purse strings. 

Matt Peiken: Which is really funny because we're talking about merging the school districts, yet Asheville City Schools is Really at the mercy of Buncombe County commissioners.

Buncombe County schools is directly reporting to Buncombe County commissioners. 

Greg Parlier: In the same way the Asheville city schools are there, they're both totally independent entities. Neither one of them have control over how much money they get. Both appeal to the County commission. 

Matt Peiken: So in a way. I can see where the county commission would say, why aren't we just rolling these school districts together into one if they both have to answer to us and come to us for budgeting needs? Am I correct in that, that's part of the inertia of merging? 

Greg Parlier: Yes, right now the state mandated a study. The county has talked about this potential consolidation for years and years. But right now they're they are the agency in charge of Performing the feasibility study in conjunction with the two school districts, and it would seem like they Might behoove them to roll it together. They've been watching this out wide sides as one commissioner who's been on Asheville City Schools board previously and it really watches this stuff closely and it does feel like he's leaning towards going Consolidation, of course, he wants to wait to see what the study shows.

Matt Peiken: What's the timeline on this study? Any sense or people giving you anything concrete? 

Greg Parlier: Yeah. The state law says it must be reported next February, 2025. 

Matt Peiken: So there's still a year out and that's just the results of a study. Then it's like, what do we do with this information? So any sort of policies or movement, we're talking a couple of years, maybe, until anything happens, right? 

Greg Parlier: Probably. Once we have the study, I would think conversations will really ramp up at the County Commission. The decision can either come from the state or the county level. So for locally, it makes the most sense to lobby the County Commission.

Matt Peiken: We talked about your story looking into the history of Asheville City Schools related to black students. That's going to come out in April. Is there anything we haven't talked about or talked about enough? That's in your reporting that you think we should keep our eye on.

Greg Parlier: I just want to speak to all of the chaos that has been happening at Asheville City Schools. We have the Hovering Consolidation Study and the closing of Montford North Star. Last week, also, Lucy S. Herring Elementary School, they are going through massive renovations, including HVAC and a bunch of building renovations to their school.

It was announced last week that they were going to close because of these renovations. They were going to send the students to the other four elementary schools so that they could, until the renovations were finished, then reopen the school, but keep it as a school in the future. That really worried parents, especially with the talk of closing a middle school. Are we closing this school as well? Is it really going to reopen? After that hearing from parents, superintendent Fehrman said that they're going to press pause on that one, which is exactly what parents were asking for at Montford, but on Lucy S Herring, they're pressing pause.

They're going to try to figure out how to keep the school intact while renovations happen. 

Matt Peiken: That's interesting too, because the renovations they were thinking that it's going to necessitate the closing of that school at least temporarily Yeah, nothing was happening at Monford middle school that was necessitating closure, right? 

Greg Parlier: Yeah, they didn't have a building issue They were just that was the district's decision on their best option For saving some money and opening up a space for that education and career academy to move in. 

Matt Peiken: Oh, I see. But again, the decisions based on these choices went, okay, you're talking about closing that elementary school, which needed to be closed to do these repairs, or closing the middle school, which didn't need to be closed for any repairs, it was just a choice to save money, and maybe closing the elementary school wouldn't have saved as much money, I don't know, but you've alluded to and pointed to a couple of episodes where there were clear choices facing our school district leaders, and they seem to be not seeing it as choices, it seems to be reactionary decisions, not based on A versus B, but oh, we need to save money. Let's just do this without a comparative analysis.

Greg Parlier: Superintendent Fehrman said that it was reviewed on maybe they should close one of the elementary schools and go down to four and The justification that she always said to the board was that was not going to be possible Based on the capacity of the other schools. Then the Lucy S. Herring conversation is oh That's gonna happen just for a year, So it's hard to really understand how that wouldn't be possible long term if it is possible for a year. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah, and, okay, we're talking about going down from five elementary schools to four for a year versus going from two middle schools to one. Yeah. The math doesn't seem right on that choice. 

Greg Parlier: The other part of the middle school justification was Asheville Middle School built a new campus in 2015 I want to say and it's beautiful and huge and they have a lot of space there. Even if they add all of Montford North Star into Asheville Middle School, They're still going to be only at 70 75 percent capacity in that big building.

So she saw using that new facility closer to its maximum potential as it made sense. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah, I can see that, strictly on that school, we've got, we're under, far under capacity, let's bring these 220 students in, and we're still well under capacity for this new school.

But, They're not wrapping in STEAM education, are they? They're not changing the way that Asheville Middle School is approaching education by merging these two schools. It's really assimilating, and I'm not taking a side on this, I'm just trying to gather from what you're telling me, taking kids from Montford North Star and the way they were learning, which was a distinct approach, a STEAM approach, which is not happening necessarily at Asheville Middle School, so they're losing that approach to education.

Greg Parlier: She has presented these ideas of how to incorporate some of Momford's strategies and one idea is this schools approach where they have three different mini schools within a school, essentially, with different focuses, trying to imitate as well as you can. But it's very unclear how that would really work. And those were just ideas presented at recent board meetings. It'll really be up to the principal of Asheville Middle School and staff to organize.

Matt Peiken: And so the staff at Montford North Star effectively faces being laid off. Pretty much the staff, not merged in. 

Greg Parlier: So the way she's presented it is the staff savings will only happen through attrition. She has promised that no one at Montford North Star is getting laid off. It seems obvious like they'll just move to Asheville Middle School, but it's not been reaffirmed that's definitely the case yet. But she expects and plans on some staff to want to leave after this closure, and that'll help with the attrition.

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