Local News

Despite Growth Challenges, Wake Schools Ready for New Year

Posted August 24, 2007 4:32 p.m. EDT
Updated August 24, 2007 8:48 p.m. EDT

— The Wake County public school system has been working hard ro overcome shortages of teachers and bus drivers and to find space in which to put thousands of new students expected to report to class next week, leaders said Friday.

Nonetheless, they said they are ready for about 100,000 students expected to show upMonday at more than 100 traditional-calendar schools.

"We will have slight overcrowding in some of our schools," Wake County Public School System Superintendent Del Burns said. "I do not believe we will have extreme overcrowding in any of our schools, but we will have to wait and see what happens next week."

Burns said more students are expected to fill classrooms this year and that making accommodations to handle the growth has been a challenge.

For the 2007-2008 school year, the district brought in 155 mobile classrooms to help with space issues and opened seven new schools.

Part of the crunch is a result of Superior Court Judge Howard Manning's ruling earlier this year that the district must have permission from parents before placing students in year-round school.

The school system wanted to convert 22 schools to a mandatory year-round schedule as part of its growth-management plan. After Manning's ruling, it sent out consent forms to more than 30,500 students' parents, and more than 2,500 opted for traditional year-round schools.

The district hired about 1,100 teachers this summer to help with the influx of students, bringing the total to about 10,100. As of Friday, there were 34 vacancies, Assistant Superintendent Maurice Boswell said, which represents less than 0.5 percent of the teaching staff.

Staffing needs are about where they have been in previous years, Burns said, and he did not think student learning would be affected.

One area coming up short, however, is transportation, officials said. About 65 driver vacancies were unfilled, and the school system was still taking applications Friday afternoon.

About 70,000 students are expected to commute to school on 870 buses. Until all positions are filled, officials said, some drivers will drive double routes.

Leaders also said they hope results due Sept. 4 from a self-imposed, $215,000, third-party audit will show how they can better operate and handle the rising student population.

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