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Wake School Leaders Pledge Cooperation With Bond Opponents

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake County's $970 million school bond passed, but in many outlying areas of the county, it wasn't a popular choice.

That's why Wake County School Board Chair Patti Head says there is more work to do than just construction.

"I know this is an emotional issue for many families," she said. "We'll continue to listen and (to) work with our critics and supporters alike."

Part of that is reaching out to parents who don't want to be put on a year-round calendar. Earlier this year, 19 elementary schools and three middle schools were selected for year-round conversion starting in the summer of 2007. Many parents affected by the conversion opposed the bond because it includes $13 million to switch the schools.

"Now, we are in a position where the ball is in their court," said Dave Duncan, who headed the group "Stop Mandatory Year-Round," which opposed the bond.

As the reassignment process begins, Duncan is skeptical that parents will be able to transfer their children to traditional-calendar schools.

"I think it's terribly unrealistic to think that there will be a lot of choices," he said. "As I shared with Patti Head, its' a chance, and a slim chance at that."

Wake County Public School System officials say they cannot answer that question yet. The reassignment plan is expected in December, and families can request transfers early next year.

"Now, how well we can balance supply and demand, I don't think that's known at this point," Wake County Schools Growth Management Director Chuck Dulaney said.

Although there is no specific plan for reaching out to unhappy parents, both sides say they are ready to find common ground.

"In many respects, we all want the same thing. It's how are we going to get there," Duncan said.

If growth projections are on target, school officials say they will not have to convert more existing schools to year-round calendars in the immediate future. New elementary and middle schools, however, will open on a year-round calendar.

Wake County Schools Superintendent Del Burns says the school board will take a funding request to the Board of Commissioners next month so construction projects can start right away.

The school system plans to take bids on four new elementary schools and a new high school before the end of January.

"Shovels could be hitting dirt by March," Head said.

The new elementary schools would open in 2008. The new high school is slated for 2009.

The larger bond package will pay for a total of 17 new schools, 13 major renovation projects and land for 13 future schools in the next 3½ years.


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