Wake County Schools

Growing, financial pains evident in Wake school calendar discussion

Posted September 2, 2014 7:51 p.m. EDT
Updated September 2, 2014 10:38 p.m. EDT

— The district’s growing pains and financial shortcomings were evident during a Wake County Board of Education work session Tuesday afternoon as board members discussed changing the academic calendars at five schools to address over- and under-crowding.

Most of the conversation centered on Mills Park elementary and middle schools, which are both under a traditional 10-month calendar, but under a proposed plan would either be converted to a multi-track calendar or receive 21 modular classrooms (9 elementary, 12 middle) to alleviate overcrowding.

Mills Park parents are not interested in switching calendars, said board member Susan Evans, whose district includes both Cary schools.

“They are worried about (multiple) kids at two, three schools that have to change their schedules,” she said. “They’re looking at that they’ve already had their schedules changed once and now here we go again (with switching schedules). There’s so many emotions from the Mills Park community regarding even contemplating such a change. We have to consider very heavily the impact of families and the impact of stability.”

One of those parents, Jennifer Langdon, said west Cary families do not want any school calendar changes.

"The people in our community prefer to have traditional schools," she said following Tuesday night's school board meeting. "There is a lot of different options they can choose, but parents do not want to see another change."

Adding modular classrooms would cost more than $2 million. Infrastructure fees to the Town of Cary and traffic modifications would be additional millions.

“Everybody’s shocked that a developer can come in and build housing where there’s no infrastructure,” said board member Jim Martin, who suggested asking town officials to waive the fees. “We can’t bear all the costs. We don’t have the revenue to bear all the costs.”

Tuesday’s discussion follows a district facilities committee meeting where the calendar changes were proposed to help balance the student population:

  • Ballentine Elementary, currently a multi-track year-round school at 65 percent capacity, would lose its temporary classrooms and one of its tracks to boost capacity to 75 percent. The move would save $245,000 and eliminate six teacher positions. A new elementary school is planned for the area in 2018, but funding is yet to be determined.
  • Wakefield Elementary, currently a multi-track year-round school at 91 percent capacity, would be converted to a traditional calendar. The move would place the school in sync with the calendars at Wakefield middle and high schools. While it would increase the elementary school’s capacity to 108 percent, if all of the school’s 10 temporary classrooms are used, it would bring capacity below 100 percent. Abbotts Creek Elementary is scheduled to open in 2015 to help reduce overcrowding in the area.
  • Alston Ridge Elementary, a single-track year-round school at 112 percent capacity, would be converted to a multi-track school, which would reduce capacity to 85 percent. In addition, temporary classrooms could be added. The move would result in a cost of $32,000 for year-round carts and $160,000 for two temporary classrooms. A new elementary school is scheduled to open in the area in 2017 to help reduce overcrowding.
  • Mills Park elementary and middle schools are at 111 percent and 116 percent capacity, respectively. Converting to a multi-track calendar would drop capacity to 85 percent and 97 percent, respectively. Temporary classrooms would reduce capacity to 91 and 97 percent, respectively. A new elementary school in 2016 and two middle schools, Pine Hollow in 2016 and a second school in 2019 or later, are scheduled to be built in the area to reduce overcrowding.

Schools using a multi-track year-round calendar can enroll more students by operating on four separate tracks. Each track runs for about nine weeks, followed by a three-week break. The tracks are staggered so three tracks can operate at any given time.

The proposed calendar changes come as the district is also considering a student enrollment plan that would adjust attendance zones for 63 current schools to alleviate overcrowding and help fill 17 new schools the district plans to build over the next four years.

Officials project the district will grow by 18,000 students over the next four years. To address the influx of students, three schools are scheduled to open in 2015 (two elementary, one high), five in 2016 (four elementary, one middle), six in 2017 (five elementary, one high) and three in 2018 (two middle, one high).

Even with the projections, board member Bill Fletcher said the district is already playing catch-up.

“We’re getting ready to experience north of whatever the plan we thought we were going to have,” he said. “We’re behind now, and here’s the truth, based on the projections after everything we build, we’ll be just as far behind. And if the projections are low, we will be further behind. That’s the reality from where we sit today.”

School board members are expected to vote on the proposed changes by Sept. 16, but it will not be an easy decision to make, board member Tom Benton said.

“We can’t always look at our decisions just from a business perspective as our County Commissioners want us to,” he said. “We have to look at the intangible impacts on families and children. It’s not always dollars and cents or what is going to be the cheapest, which makes it very tough.”