Shining Rock hallway

SHINING ROCK — A hallway of classrooms in Building C at Shining Rock Classical Academy. The school currently has 304 students, and lower-than-expected enrollment has been cited as a factor in the decision to abandon early plans for a new school building.

During a special-called meeting Monday, Shining Rock Classical Academy learned that enrollment numbers are even lower than expected, a reality that has put all school building plans on hold.

Board members were told 304 students showed up on the first day of school, which was about 56 fewer than expected.

Due to the number of students that left the school mid-year, the Shining Rock board had anticipated a lower enrollment, and budgeted for revenue from 360 students.

Since only 304 students have enrolled to date, the school’s revenue will be down considerably since public school budgets are based on the number of pupils enrolled by the 10th day of the school year.

Based on budget numbers from this spring, Shining Rock estimated revenue of about $7,700 from the state and the county for each of its students. However, with 56 students less than anticipated, that means the school will be losing $431,200 if enrollment doesn’t rise.

Shining Rock School Director Josh Morgan explained that the enrollment number of 304 was not final, but said he wasn’t expecting much growth.

“I don’t know that we are going to have a lot of movement on that,” Morgan said on Monday night.

With the decrease in students, Morgan emphasized a need to promote a more positive image of the school. He added that he had been working with teachers on professional development in hopes to publicize the positive aspects of the school.

“We have more positive that takes place in the school than negative,” Morgan said. “We have an obligation for our families to know the positives and really for our greater Haywood County community.”

Taking into account the significant drop in enrollment, the board decided to halt a process started months ago that went as far as negotiating a price for land and submitting planning documents for a new school.

Because all such discussions were held in closed meetings, the issue only became public Aug. 1 when Shining Rock filed a proposal with Waynesville Development Services to build a school on a 15.93-acre parcel of land near its present campus. The school had also hired construction companies, contractors and engineers to asses the land in question.

“Since we are currently equipped to house the current enrollment, I make a motion to suspend any decisions about making a commitment to our facilities expansion at this time,” board secretary Melanie Norman said during a special-called meeting Monday night. “We can re-visit this when enrollment increases.”

The motion was approved unanimously, with all board members agreeing that the school’s current facility had sufficient space for now.

“We are going to hopefully see growth with our grade (NC School Performance Grade based on year-end test scores), which will give confidence to one of the arguments that we hear a lot, and I think that will be a positive,” said board member Anna Eason. “The only way to go is up.”

For the past three years, the school has received a “C” School Performance Grade based on state testing. In 2018, the school’s test scores showed that 43 percent of students did not achieve growth — which is a measure of whether students have grown academically by one year from the point they were the previous year.

In 2017, 38 percent of SRCA’s students did not meet growth, and in 2016, test scores indicated that 27 percent of its students did not achieve growth. During its first year of operation, Shining Rock received a “B” grade from the state and only 29 percent of its students failed to meet growth.

Board chair Michelle Haynes said it was still the school’s intention to expand in the future.

“I want to see the growth,” Haynes said. “This is not our forever home here. We want a permanent campus, and we want to expand and go to high school. I think at our enrollment, this is where we need to stay. It’s adequate.”

Shining Rock’s current campus is located on property owned by Lake Junaluska Assembly. The school signed a 10-year lease on it, with a renewable option. Shining Rock purchased three modular classroom buildings and one office modular for a total of $924,796, and secured a $2.9 million loan through Challenge Foundation Properties at a 7-percent fixed rate to pay for the buildings, needed infrastructure and site preparation.

The Mountaineer has submitted a public documents request to Shining Rock asking for items that will show the amount of public funds spent on the proposed expansion to date, as well as closed meeting minutes that should reflect board member discussion on the topic. The request also included documents showing the status the current loan.

The school and The Mountaineer are working through a difference of opinion on what is considered lawful topics of discussion in a closed meeting.

The next board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 21 at the Shining Rock campus.

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