Wake County Schools

Wake schools' future holds thousands more students than desks for them

Posted September 21, 2010

Wake County Public School System

— The Wake County Board of Education already knew it had a big fiscal headache coming and that the changes it has made in how to assign students to schools continue to draw fire from critics, and Tuesday the members got news about enrollments and classroom shortages over the next decade.

Even with current building plans, population projections by forecasters at North Carolina State University show the system will start to run out of seats in all grades about the 2014-15 school year and will fall thousands of seats short by 2019-20, Don Haydon, the district's chief of facilities, reported during a board work session.

Even that projection, Haydon explained, assumes 100 percent occupancy in every school, a situation administrators try to avoid because they cannot foresee every development during a school year.

"We have nine years to build 34 new schools to be even more crowded than we are now?" including using larger schools and year-round schools, member John Tedesco asked with surprise in his voice.

The number of 34 came from enrollment projections Haydon showed the board, but he stressed that there are large variables in how to handle the growth, including the new assignment plan.

The board earlier this year voted 5-4 to shift to a policy that tries to assign students to schools near their homes and that gives up on a decade-long effort to balance socioeconomic diversity across schools. How that will affect the need for classroom seats is an unknown while a committee tries to devise a way to implement the policy.

Another part of the board's challenge is that different parts of the county have different growth projections. Eastern Wake is expected to grow more while western Wake's growth slows, the staff has told the board before.

The system will be short about 19,700 elementary school seats by 2019-20, Haydon said. Middle schools will need about 8,000 more seats by then, and high schools will be short about 11,800 seats, he told the board.

Other unknowns in calculating what will be needed to accommodate the growth include what calendar will be used at which schools – traditional or calendar – and what courses will be offered and what facilities those will require.

"What I wanted to do today is plant the seed of information with the board," Haydon told the board members. "We need to start the discussion" of what to do, he said.

The assignment policy itself brought some stern exchanges between board members earlier.

Board member Deborah Prickett said she wanted guidance on what members should be telling parents about the transition to community-based assignment. Member Anne McLaurin said she is explaining to parents how the new assignments apparently will be based on a map that uses high school attendance zones as a starting point.

Members Debra Goldman and Carolyn Morrison clashed on whether a school principal or Morrison had asked for a public meeting she held at Reedy Creek Elementary School. Morrison said the principal had requested the meeting, but Goldman said Morrison had.

Margiotta said that members who want to have meetings in schools are supposed to go through the administration to arrange for them, and there may be expenses. It's a process "we must all follow," Margiotta told McLaurin and Morrison. Expenses might have to be approved by the full board, he said.

Tedesco warned that all parts of the new assignment plan are still uncertain, including the maps, and asked members to think through "what makes sense moving forward" for public meetings. He wanted to avoid having board members send "mixed messages" to the public.

The development process laid out by staff calls for community meetings to discuss proposals, but not until many more details have been worked out.

A Student Assignment Committee that Tedesco chairs is trying to work out an assignment map, the Raleigh-Wake County Chamber of Commerce has hired a nationally known consultant on "controlled choice" assignment plans, Michael Alves of Boston, to work on the goal. The chamber, the Raleigh City Council, the Wake County Board of Commissioners and the state Legislature have all expressed concern about the decision to stop trying to have socioeconomic balance in the county schools.


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  • FedUpAmerican Sep 27, 2010

    Don't be fooled people. Year round or traditional... isn't the real issue here...
    Poor/irresponsible community planning/development is! Heck... while illegal immigration may play a significant role... it isn't the straw that is breaking the camel's back... Again... it boils down to poor/irresponsible community planning/development. You wake county people should hold your leaders to a higher economic standard while focusing on community safety and public education above other pet projects such as a the downtown development project.... and quite buying into their tired arguments. Simply too many irons in the fire....

  • ncguy Sep 23, 2010

    Thank your local business owner who hires illegals for this.

    illegals are the number 1 new students in wake county and in NC as a whole.

  • Myrrdin Sep 22, 2010


    Saving money may be a fallacy. Putting more kids in a building is not. If (and lots of people will scream about this) YR schools were mandatory district wide, we would not need to build as many schools.

    And for the record, I am just stating what could happen, I don't want mandatory YR schools. I personally like YR schools but not everyone should have to be YR.

    A school built for 900 could hold ~1200 as a YR building. 10 such schools would hold ~3000 more students. As for saving money, I can't say one way or another. I don't do budget, but I do know the numbers in my child'd YR school and what the building capacity would be without YR.

  • Peace Love and Cold Meds Sep 22, 2010

    Year-round schools were never suggested here, they were forced upon the public and they don't save a dime because none of them are full.

  • Not_So_Dumb Sep 22, 2010

    rand321 - Look at other districts. They have had true mandatory year round and quit because it doesn't save money.

    I am not anti-YR; my kids go to YR and I prefer it. However, it is NOT a way to save money. It hasn't worked for others in that role, and I don't think it will for WCPSS.

    FWIW, the utility and maintenance costs for YR schools are higher than the 33% that should occur based on the duration that they are open. Bills in the summer are higher, and cost to repair and refurbish greater when opportunities are less. This is based on WCPSS data.

    As I said previously, YR is just a way for cowardly board members to avoid putting a capital expenditure bond up for vote. If it saved money, everyone would be doing it. Instead, fewer districts are than ten years ago. That alone should tell you something.

  • rand321 Sep 22, 2010

    no so dumb...if the schools were at the enrollment figures they were built for, the capital costs would be lower. given that we will need 34 or more schools, every seat will need to be filled at every school.

    the actual experience with some schools in Wake Co. with teh court challenges, etc. would provide actual experience and under utlized facilities. If year round was MANDATORY for all students, ditch the tradtional calender the true savings and great utilization would be there.

    we simply cannot afford all the school and calendar choices.

  • Not_So_Dumb Sep 22, 2010

    rand321 - Again, what you state appears to be true by conventional wisdom but has not been supported by actual experience.

    Also, the per student operating costs are higher for year round. The schools are open 33% longer but never reach that level of enrollment increase.

  • Not_So_Dumb Sep 22, 2010

    NE Raleigh - "Without schools, jobs, housing, and social services, I was thinking along the lines of them self deporting."

    Actually, without jobs is all that needs to be said. Seriously, no jobs, no immigrants. Of course, the politicians won't address that because it might upset their multi-million dollar corporate donors who just love how illegal immigration depresses wages.

  • rand321 Sep 22, 2010

    Year round schools reduce the need for NEW seats or classrooms. The operating costs per pupil are the same. to build a tradtional school, you need more class rooms, parking, larger cafeteria, larer auditoriums, etc. to accomodate larger number of students for 9 months or 75% of the year. The same number of students, when spread out over 12 months allows for smaller building sizes.

    they do save money on capital costs, not operating. operating costs per student are roughly the same as traditional.

  • Adelinthe Sep 22, 2010

    Wonder how many seats would suddenly become vacant if they started appropriately policing and deporting illegal immigrants and their children.

    God bless.