Local News

Wake Leaders Withhold Funds for Mandatory Year-Round Schools

Posted January 8, 2007 6:23 p.m. EST
Updated January 9, 2007 8:59 a.m. EST

— The Wake County Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 Monday in favor of withholding $3.4 million to convert existing public schools to a mandatory year-round schedule, saying it needed more time to study the plan.

It also voted to withhold $3.7 million that would relocate mobile classrooms from schools that were slated for year-round conversion.

Commissioners Harold Webb, Betty Lou Ward and Lindy Brown voted against withholding the funding.

The funding is associated with a $970 million school construction bond that Wake County voters approved in November. The Wake County Public School System was asking for the advance in funds to hire contractors and get projects started.

Twenty-two schools -- 19 middle schools and three elementary schools -- were set to switch to a year-round calendar for the 2007-2008 school year.

The decision, however, does not affect students who were set to attend new schools on a year-round schedule.

Wake County Public School System leaders said that without the conversion of those schools, they will be at least 4,000 seats short for the start of next school year.

"This is going to set us back," school board member Rosa Gill said. "I don't know what action we'll take, but I'm sure we'll have a long discussion (Tuesday)."

School system officials have said year-round schools are necessary to help the system manage its booming student population because they accommodate about 25 percent more students. While three-quarters of students are in class, one quarter is always on break.

County Commissioners also increased the allocation of funds to build new schools that were part of the bond package from $282 million to $312 million. However, they did not allocate funds for many renovation projects that would not add capacity to schools.

Those still on the list include Bugg Elementary, Aversboro Elementary, East Wake High School and Cary High School.

But school officials said that space would not be available at the start of the 2007-2008 term.

Commissioner Paul Coble, who initiated the idea to withhold the $3.4 million, said he does not think that will be the case.

"What we're doing is adding capacity now and long range," Coble said. "They're going to have a real hard time making the argument that we held them back."

Hundreds of parents protested the conversion. A representative for one of the groups said Monday evening that the commissioners' decision was the most for which they could have asked.

"I think it was important for the parents to feel like somebody was finally listening to them," Coble said.

Still, with up to 8,000 thousand more students coming next year, Gill said they are not only running out of solutions, they are running out of time to make decisions.

"Well, there's no other solution," she said. "We'll have to find a way to come up with the funds."

Legally commissioners dictate how the school board spends bond money, but school board member Carol Parkers said it could dip into savings to fund some conversions.

Monday's decision comes the eve of when the school system is set to release its revised reassignment proposal, which is based on the 22 schools converting to a year-round schedule.

In the last three years, enrollment in the Wake County schools has grown by more than 16,000 students. This year, about 6,400 new students enrolled.

By 2020, the county is expected to grow to 1.1 million people, meaning there would be an estimated 180,000 children in Wake County schools.