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Partnerships Could Help Meet Growing Demand For More Wake Schools

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CARY, N.C. — Developers have the land, prime locations and the money to help build schools in Wake County, but state law could stand in the way of a possible solution to help ease school growth issues.
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    Even if Wake County voters agree to a school bond, the Wake County Public School System says it still will not be able to fully meet the growing school population.

    The school system wants developers to build schools in neighborhoods. The school district, over time, would pay back the developers.

    "These public-private partnerships raise a heck of a lot more money and get schools built quicker and more efficiently," said Chris Sinclair, with the Triangle Community Coalition, a nonprofit organization that works on growth issues.

    The school system is also pushing the idea. Even though it isn't sure what savings, if any, there would be, leaders believe it would help ease overcrowding more quickly.

    "If they can provide 10 to 15 percent of the schools, that might be one more thing I can use," said Mike Burriss, with the Wake school system.

    The only problem, however, is that the school system needs permission from the General Assembly. Under state law, school systems are required to own the buildings. They can't rent-to-own, which is how these partnerships would work.

    The school system says that if growth projections were more accurate a long time ago, they would've worked to change the law sooner.

    "In hindsight, waiting to see what was going to come put us farther behind," Burris said.

    The state Legislature may not be the only hurdle. There could be planning differences.

    The developer of Cary Park donated $5.5 million for a neighborhood school six years ago. The school is now planned for 2008 because there were disputes over the design.

    The school system and developers think they can get past the state law because the partnerships get schools on the ground and schools where people want them -- in neighborhoods.

    The schools system hopes lawmakers will take up this issue next year. If the law is changed, developers could start building schools in the next two years.