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Wake Schools Set To Debut Measures To Ease Overcrowding

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WAKE COUNTY, N.C. — Sara Gressel is only 6 years old. But starting Monday, she will be attending high school.

The first-grader is one of nearly 500 elementary-school students who will be attending class at Holly Springs High School this school year.

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    "It's concerning that it's part of the high school, but I think they are going to do a good job of keeping them apart," said April Gressel, Sara's mother.

    Sara and her fellow students are there because there is not any place else for them to go. Their assigned school, Holly Grove Elementary School, is still a year away from completion.

    The Wake County Public School System has struggled to build schools fast enough to keep up with the growing number of families moving to Wake County. With about 120,000 students currently enrolled, school officials expect at least another 6,000 this school year.

    If the school population continues to grow at its current rate, Wake County forecasts 172,000 public-school students by 2015.

    "I think they should have planned better," Gressel said. "When they build houses, they should have a school ready. They shouldn't have to go to a school one year and then throw them into another."

    The booming student population has forced school leaders to find new ways to meet the demand for more classroom space. In addition to Holly Grove, for example, River Bend Elementary School is also opening on Monday at a temporary location. Rows of modular classrooms will serve as the temporary school for two years.

    "Even though it's not always easy, it is something we are accustomed to doing," said Holly Grove Principal Wiladean Thomas, who spent time at Friday's open house reassuring parents and helping them adjust to the idea of sending their children to a high school.

    For Sara's mom, it will take some time to accept, she said. Her main concern is her little girl -- "that she's happy and feels comfortable."

    In anticipation for even more school construction over the next several years, the school system recently spent about $80,000 about 100 more modular classrooms to temporarily accommodate students.

    School leaders hope a nearly $1 billion construction bond, to be decided on by Wake County voters in November will help with the influx of students. They had hoped for $1.5 billion to pay for 11 new elementary, four middle and two high schools over the next few years.

    The proposed bond would also mean increased property taxes for Wake County residents. According to a May poll conducted for WRAL and The News & Observer, 59 percent of respondents said they would oppose the bond. About 64 percent of respondents, however, favored a $625 million bond that would not raise taxes.