Bond request may grow if year-rounds are cut

Staff WriterApril 30, 2008 

— Wake County may cut the number of new year-round schools because so many parents refuse to send their children to schools on that schedule.

That would raise the total number of new schools needed for growth, potentially leading to more expensive bond issues.

School board members agreed Tuesday to have administrators draw up scenarios for the next bond issue, proposed for May 2009, showing how much more it would cost to build fewer year-round schools.

A court ruling last year allowing parents to refuse assignment to year-round schools "will be a continuing stress on the schools," said school board member Lori Millberg.

The school board isn't ready to give up on its plan to open all new elementary and middle schools on a year-round calendar.

Year-round schools can hold more students than traditional-calendar schools by putting the buildings in constant use. School leaders have pushed for greater use of the year-round calendar to reduce the need to build as many schools.

The school board agreed to convert 22 existing schools to a year-round calendar and to open all new elementary and middle schools on that schedule as part of a bond issue approved by voters in 2006.

But the school district's efforts have been hampered by a court ruling that requires parental consent for year-round and modified-calendar schools. Wake is appealing that May 2007 ruling.

Though most families chose to attend year-round schools, the departure of more than 2,000 students to traditional-calendar schools has led to problems. Many year-round schools have empty seats, while several traditional-calendar schools are overcrowded.

Dawn Graff, a co-founder of Wake CARES, the parent group that sued Wake, said it makes sense to open more traditional-calendar schools. She argues that the economic slowdown that saw Wake grow by 2,000 fewer students than expected this year isn't about to change soon.

"It doesn't make sense to open all the schools on a year-round calendar with the county continuing to slow down," Graff said.

School administrators warn that reducing the use of new year-round schools will increase the size of the bond issue.

Board members want to know how much it would cost to open all new elementary and middle schools on a traditional calendar. They also want to know the cost implications of opening a mix of year-round and traditional-calendar schools.

Millberg suggested not raising the current percentage of schools on a year-round calendar. More than 40 percent of Wake's elementary schools and more than a quarter of the middle schools are now on a year-round calendar.

A ballot issue

But Millberg said how many traditional calendar schools the district can build rests on how large a bond issue county commissioners are willing to put on the ballot. Though the size of the bond issue won't be set until later this year, the school board and commissioners will discuss year-round school plans at a joint meeting May 21.

School administrators want to know by next month what calendar will be used for new schools in the next bond issue.

"Whether we get enough money to build more schools remains to be seen," Millberg said.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4534

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