Local News

Credit crunch to affect Wake school assignments

Posted October 14, 2008 10:49 a.m. EDT
Updated October 14, 2008 4:37 p.m. EDT

— Delays in planned school construction caused by the unstable economy will disrupt long-range student assignment plans, Wake County school officials said Tuesday.

The county last month shelved a $450 million bond sale because credit markets had frozen amid the national economic crisis. The bonds were to have paid for new schools and libraries and expansions at Wake Technical Community College.

On Monday, the county Board of Commissioners voted to float a short-term, $300 million bond anticipation note to fund projects that had already started and to carry the county until the markets improved enough for a regular bond sale.

School district officials met Tuesday morning to discuss how to reschedule building projects to fit with the reduced financing, and Chuck Dulaney, assistant superintendent for growth and planning, said pushing the schedule back will prevent the district from sticking to a multiyear student-assignment plan.

The district had promised to let parents know what school their children would be assigned to for the next three years. The idea was to make things more predictable for families who used to get the information on a year-to-year basis.

Dulaney said projecting assignments out three years would be impossible if district officials are not confident about when schools would be built or expanded.

A delay of a month or two could push the overall construction schedule on some schools back enough to delay them from opening for an entire school year, officials said.

If new schools aren't opening as previously scheduled, the school board might have to again look at converting traditional-calendar schools to year-round schedules to keep up with enrollment, board member Patti Head said.

"I imagine we are going to be looking at some pretty major delays," Head said.

Last week, the board voted to switch two year-round schools – Baucom Elementary School in Apex and Green Hope Elementary School in Cary – back to nine-month schedules because of lower-than-expected enrollment growth. The two were among 22 elementary and middle schools the district converted to year-round calendars last year – a move that prompted a parents group to file a lawsuit that is now before the state Supreme Court.

Even with the bond anticipation note, some of the more than 20 current projects might have to be suspended because of low cash flow, said Don Haydon, the district's chief facilities and operations officer. Officials expect to have a list of those projects by next week, he said.

"We have cash-flow issues," Superintendent Del Burns said. "We have new construction in various stages. We have renovation projects, both large and small, in various stages."