Wake County Schools

Proposed Wake schools task force could help pace county development

Posted September 29, 2014 10:51 p.m. EDT
Updated September 29, 2014 10:59 p.m. EDT

— The fight, and eventual victory, by Cary parents to keep Mills Park elementary and middle schools on a traditional 10-month calendar highlighted the struggle school officials have in addressing overcrowding as development brings more families to the area.

A possible answer was discussed during a Wake schools committee meeting on Monday.

The Government Relations Committee approved a proposal to create the Growth Issues Task Force, a group that could comprise of city and town leaders, school officials, parents and developers to consider items that include:

  • The capability to plan for future growth
  • Land use policies
  • How towns, cities and the school district might plan together
  • How things will be paid for

“Builder fees, impact fees, what have you,” said board member Keith Sutton, committee chairman. “We want a forum to discuss all these issues and more.”

Some parents believe legislative action is needed – state law prohibits communities from considering school infrastructure when approving building permits.

“The answer is in the state legislature,” parent Susan Stines said during a recent school board meeting.

The balance between development and schools has been an ongoing struggle in Cary, which has grown by more than 50 percent over the last 13 years and is often ranked among the country’s best places to live. This has resulted in its schools being filled beyond capacity – Mills Park elementary and middle are at 111 and 116 percent, respectively.

Parents at both schools opted for an enrollment cap and mobile classrooms, which will cost the district $530,000 plus more for traffic adjustments, over a calendar change, which parents said would disrupt family and community cohesiveness but would have reduced enrollment at both schools by more than 20 percent. The cap and temporary classrooms were approved by school board members during their Sept. 16 meeting.

"While it's been a difficult month for folks in that part of the community and all of us trying to gravel with this, one of the positive things is an understanding of the pressure we are facing as a school district and how we continue to deal with growth in high growth areas and reasons why we're looking at some less than attractive measures to deal with the growth," school board member Susan Evans, whose district includes the Mills Park schools, said during the meeting.

District enrollment is projected to grow by 18,000 students over the next four years. To address the influx of students, three schools are scheduled to open in 2015 (two elementary, one high), five in 2016 (four elementary, one middle), six in 2017 (five elementary, one high) and three in 2018 (two middle, one high).

School officials hope the task force – the district had a similar group in 2009 – will help balance the county’s growth with school capacity.

School board members will consider reestablishing the task force at an upcoming school board meeting.