RALEIGH — Even though a sputtering economy has slowed growth, Wake County schools may still have to accommodate nearly 50,000 more students by 2020 - a projection that has sparked early talk of the need for nearly $1 billion for school construction.
County officials learned of the growth estimates Wednesday at a joint meeting of the school board and board of commissioners.
More seats will be needed at the high school level by 2013, at the elementary level by 2015, and in middle schools by 2017, for a total of about 32 new schools, according to projections made by county planners. Total enrollment by 2020 is projected at nearly 195,000.
"What we have done is reduce the enrollment growth projected for the system and make it substantially lower," said Nicole Kreiser, Wake County debt and capital director. "We're still predicting growth, it's just not as accelerated."
A 2006 projection didn't go out as far as 2020, but predicted that Wake would have 20,000 more students this year than it does today.
Given annual enrollment increases of thousands of students, school board member Debra Goldman pointed out, an expected status quo appropriation of $313 million to schools in next year's budget amounts to a decrease in funding per pupil.
County Manager David Cooke conceded the point, while noting that other county departments have faced reductions in funding.
"We have reduced expenditures on the county side about $53 million over a two-year period," Cooke said.
Costs for the new schools were estimated at $950 million by county Commissioner Joe Bryan, who was trying to project an amount for a bond issue county voters will have to vote on within the next few years. A date for the referendum, which may contain nearly an equal amount for maintenance and renovation, has not been determined.
School board Chairman Ron Margiotta raised the idea that the county attorney's office could take on the real estate and disputed workers' compensation issues for the school board. The cost-saving recommendation was included in a report on Wake schools' legal representation prepared last year by Raleigh lawyer Thomas Farr.
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