Downside of Wake County schools being so large

Posted by T. Keung Hui on January 31, 2014 

As Wake County families deal Friday with the fourth snow day in a row, it points to one of the disadvantages of having a school system that large.

The Wake County school system has historically gone with an all schools open or no schools open approach to road conditions caused by inclement weather. With a county’s that 857 square miles, that typically has meant that while road conditions might be okay in more urban spots like Raleigh and Cary, the same might not the case for more rural spots in eastern and southern Wake.

For instance, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system in Orange County has one of the smallest geographic areas in the state. School officials say it means they can wait as late as just before dawn to decide whether to roll out buses when there’s inclement weather.

But Chapel Hill is the exception rather than the rule in North Carolina, where school systems over the years have been encouraged to merge into county units. There are 115 school districts for the state’s 100 counties, which can be a surprise for people who come from other areas where every small town has its own school system.

Locally, the current system is the result of the 1976 merger of the Wake County and Raleigh City school systems. Wake is now the largest school district in the state and the 16th largest in the nation with its 153,000 students.

Supporters of consolidation point to advantages such as economies of scale that come from larger school systems.

Despite talk over the years of breaking up Wake, the idea hasn’t gotten far. It would take state legislative action to break up the district like it took state action to bring about the merger.

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