Wake School Board Rejects Mandatory Year-Round Plan, Approves $1 Billion Building Plan
Posted May 17, 2006 6:13 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — By a vote of 5-3, the Wake County school board agreed Tuesday night to a $1 billion bond plan that would convert around one-third of the county's elementary schools to a year-round schedule to accommodate the school system's overwhelming growth.
Earlier Tuesday evening, board members rejected 6-2 a year-round school proposal that would have converted almost all the county's elementary schools to year-round schedules and would have kept the school construction bond issue under $1 billion.
After the first vote, members continued meeting into Tuesday evening to come to terms on a construction bond issue that barely breaks the $1 billion mark. The bond issue is expected to go before Wake County commissioners on Wednesday.
For weeks, school board members have been trying to keep the school construction bond issue under $1 billion, but that would have meant nearly every elementary school in the Wake County System would be converted to a year-round calendar. The plan approved includes about half of the original number of students going to year-round schools.
No changes will be made to the calendars of middle and high schools in Wake County. There is no word yet on which elementary schools will undergo a conversion to the year-round calendar. The converted schools will be on a four-track year-round schedule, rather than a modified year-round schedule, which has all students on the same schedule but with a shorter summer break and longer breaks at other times.
"That last $200 million or so it takes to get it under $1 billion is really what has forced the year-round issue," said school board member Lori Millberg. "And it does not appear that that has made any people any more likely to vote for the bond."
Earlier in the day dozens of parents stood in front of the school board offices to demonstrate their passionate opposition to forced year-round conversion. Many parents supported the larger bond plan, believing it is the best way to decrease the need for mandatory year-round schedules down the road.
The plan aims at gaining 3,000 new seats for students in the 2007-2008 school year, but leaves a traditional calendar at most elementary schools.
"The key to the conversion is that we can't build schools fast enough," said Millberg.
Wake County commissioners say they will back what the school board decides, even if the bond amount increases.
"It's OK with us, and we'll support that, but of course, it's up to the voters of Wake County to decide," County Commissioner Tony Gurley said.
A poll conducted by WRAL and the Raleigh News & Observer shows 59 percent of those surveyed did not favor the bond option whether it was $998 million or even higher. Only 28 percent, however, opposed a $625 million bond that did not increase taxes.
"We will have huge, huge conversions to year-round with that $625 million," Millberg said. "There is no way we can build enough schools to accommodate the growth without going to year-round with just $625 million."
Some parents say it is upsetting to them that lower taxes appear to be more important to people than year-round schedules.
"You get what you pay for, and we can't expect to have a great education system without funding it," said parent Kim Whitley.
The school system is growing twice as fast as predicted just two years ago and with 40,000 new students expected within the next five years, even the most expensive bond package still would not be enough to make a significant change in the percentage of students in modular classrooms.
"It's not the solution we need for the long run because this isn't a peak," said Wake County Assistant Superintendent Chuck Dulaney. "We're not all of a sudden gaining students that are going to stop coming (to school)."
"Even if we had all the money we needed to build schools that fast, we would be putting so many construction projects on the ground so quickly that the law of supply-and-demand tells me the cost of the schools would escalate," Dulaney added.
Overall, 21 percent of Wake County students attend class in modular units, but at the elementary-school level, the rate is 27 percent.
Some parents say that although they are not happy about the temporary classrooms, they do not think they have a major impact on their children's education.
"I think our teachers could teach in a closet, but if I had my druthers, I'd rather them be in the buildings," said parent Karen Pavlinac. "But I feel like our teachers are so good that they could learn anywhere."
The school board wanted to have only 8 percent of students in modular classrooms in five years, but recently decided to scale back that goal. About 100 new units are expected to be installed next year.
School leaders are just hoping to keep the percentage of students in temporary classrooms from increasing.