Local News

Wake Officials Look at Leasing Schools From Developers

Posted February 21, 2007

— Wake County commissioners and school board members met Wednesday to look at the possibility of using public-private partnerships to build schools faster and more cheaply.

A state law that went into effect last July allows schools to be built by developers, who then lease the buildings to school districts. Because the law hasn't been used in North Carolina yet, experts from other states made presentations during the three-hour meeting on how public-private partnerships have worked elsewhere.

Leasing schools would mean districts wouldn't have to have money upfront to build schools. Supporters of the idea argue it would be an alternative to ease overcrowding and get schools built faster and cheaper.

The school district takes about two and a half years to acquire land and build and open a school.

“This should expand the number of people working on these projects and still benefit the citizens in Wake County,” said Tony Gurley, chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

District administrators project enrollment at Wake County schools will continue to grow by about 8,000 students a year for the next several years. They already are using massive reassignments, year-round schedules and a $970 million school construction bond to try to create enough classroom space to accommodate the growth.

"As we're continuing to grow, we're going to need more schools," said Patti Head, chairwoman of the school board. "If in dealing with public-private partnerships, we can get these schools up quicker than we can as a public school system, that would benefit us to opening schools faster. We don't know that. We're just beginning the process."

The concept has been used in Virginia since 2002. Officials from that state said it hasn't saved money upfront, but districts have opened schools six months to a year earlier than expected -- one school even opened two years ahead of time.

“You can imagine the inflationary periods of 20 percent a year which we've seen in Virginia two years was a significant savings,” said Doug Westmoreland of FirstChoice, a public-private partnership firm in Virginia.

Wake school officials said accommodating growth would offset any lack of savings. Head said the district might do a comparison by building two schools -- one under its existing practices and one using a public-private partnership -- to determine which way works better.

The meeting was the first time in several months that the commissioners and the school board have gotten together. In the interim, harsh words have been exchanged after commissioners withheld money the district said was needed to convert 22 schools from a traditional calendar to a year-round schedule and proposed placing another huge school bond proposal on the November ballot.

Head opened the meeting by stating that the moves surprised and disappointed school supporters, but Gurley responded that the commissioners only wanted to urge the district to devise more options for handling school growth.

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  • El Doggo Feb 25, 2007

    ... Oh, and they have digbats like diva believing that there is no value to impact fees...

  • El Doggo Feb 25, 2007

    Hondaman is right! There is NOTHING affordable about this market except that the developers can afford to buy the land and develop WITHOUT impact fees!

  • El Doggo Feb 25, 2007

    Yes they DO Diva! They just left an open house for a new family to occupy. A new house is a new house - period! More square footage means MORE IMPACT!!!

  • E-Diva Feb 23, 2007

    What kind of "Impact" does an existing Wake County family have on our resources if they move? NONE. That is why we care if impact fees are passed on to the buyer. Not everyone who buys a new home is a new resident.

    Now do you get it, El Doggo?????

  • superman Feb 23, 2007

    Make all schools year round. charge impact fees-- the idea that the builders are trying to make houses affordable is funny. How many new houses can u find in wake country that are under 100,000. Most of the houses are 1/2 million and up and up. You think that is affordable? And if you are on worried about your kids school schedule-- maybe you should think about when they get older and they can drive and then go off to college. Kids are kinda like a pet dog-- u will worry about them for the rest of your life.

  • wondermom67 Feb 22, 2007

    I am very grateful that we are not only year round, but my child also goes to a charter school, so unless we leave we do not have to worry about being reassigned. With no reassignments, our children are able to establish long lasting friendships, from K - 12th grade, which is basically unheard of this day and time. We do not have to WORRY what school we are going to next year. Unlike the majority of most wake county public schools...the staff at our charter school actually have authority over the students..the staff RUN the school, not the students run the school, which is what is going on now, because so many teachers feel unsafe as teachers. We are so blessed.

  • Isabella Feb 22, 2007

    Yes, you are correct when I look at 2006-2007 YR schedule. It was 4.5 weeks (track 1, 4 wks for track 4). I can't say what the year was like before, but I had rounded up to 5 weeks in my mind.
    Again, I would like to point out that you can not expect things to stay constant in life. Changes happen. To sacrifice the quality of your child's education (which funding, overcrowding, reassignment, etc is fundamentally linked) because of your traditional summer vacation, well, IMHO, means you need to rethink your priorities & what is more important. We are lucky in Wake Cnty; we live close enough to the beach for a weekend vacation & also to the mountains for the same vacation. And note, every year you will be able to request a change in track. No guarantees of course because WCPSS does have to consider everyone, not just your family. I can not speak much to leasing property, but it seems to me a bad financial decision that will only cost more in the end and not solving the problem.

  • Montana Feb 22, 2007

    Our kids have been on year round for six years and LOVE it. We have plenty of unstructured time during our breaks, as well as time for camps and wonderful vacations. Three weeks off is just enough of a break and then the kids are ready to go back. In June and Dec we usually have 4 weeks off (track 1) because of July 4th holidays and Christmas holidays.

    This year we have been reassigned and have to apply now to get back in year round. And we're not happy about having to reapply. We have been spoiled by our year round schedule and just cannot comprehend being "stuck" in a traditional school. We love the freedom of year round. So see, no one is happy. "Traditional" calendar fans, you are not the only ones being punished by reassignment and calendar changes.

    Here's hoping we all get what we want when the application period is over!

  • oceanchild71 Feb 22, 2007

    Isabella: I count every track as having only 4 weeks total off during the summer and that is including Track 1 which has most of its days off in June and Track 2 whose last week goes into September (all tracks have 3 continuous weeks plus one week for July 4th).

    If a family wants to take a vacation to the beach in NC, the water in June is quite cold unless you get really lucky. A lot of families have traditional vacations that they take during the summer and the chances of their vacation coinciding with their children's tracking out is slim. For some of these people, they have to take those vacations those days because it's their investment (timeshare, etc).

    Tom has a great point in that WCPSS won't let anyone in any neighborhood claim they belong to any school because the WCPSS wants to reserve the right to reassign in order to keep the Free-and-reduced lunch % at 40%.

  • Isabella Feb 22, 2007

    "Thomas Jefferson", you do realize that children do not attend school for one day more with year round school than with a traditional schedule (which was originally set up to accomodate the needs of farming families a long time ago) Two of the tracks even have 5 weeks off during the summer months.

    If you want to tackle the "unstructured time" of children, then work on getting parents/kids to stop wearing their children/themselves out with extracurricular activities. Get parents to limit TV and video game time. Year round school does not limit unstructured time. If anything, it gives children more frequent breaks to breathe and be kids. There is no hardship as you put it.

    I won't even get into the "qualified to to receive such schooling" comment.