Clarification: A previous version of this story said Wake County commissioners are responsible for school renovation and construction. Commissioners fund school renovation and construction, while the Wake County school board is responsible for managing school renovation and construction.
School capacity is expected to be the main topic of conversation Monday, April 20, when Wake County leaders meet with their counterparts from Cary.
The Cary Town Council and Wake County Board of Commissioners will gather for an 11:30 a.m. lunch meeting at the Wake County Justice Center in Raleigh to talk about schools and growth, among other issues.
The meeting – the Wake board’s first this year with another municipal body – has been highly anticipated for Cary council members. Some have publicly bemoaned the lack of schools in town and said months ago they want to work with commissioners on addressing the issue.
“We have a serious concern about the lack of school capacity because it hurts our ability to have economic vitality,” Cary councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said Tuesday. “Schools are probably going to be at the heart of our conversation.”
In Wake County, the school board is responsible for running schools and managing school construction while county commissioners are responsible for funding school renovation and construction. This group of commissioners, all Democrats, was elected in November partially because they vowed to pay more attention to local schools than their Republican predecessors.
In that vein, Wake commissioner John Burns said he looks forward to building relationships with Cary leaders and potentially addressing a number of issues together.
“I think what I’m going to do is listen,” Burns said. “I know there’s a lot of concern about school construction. I hope we’ll be able to help meet those concerns over future years.”
Three Cary schools are currently capped due to crowding.
Students who move into the assignment area of a capped school after Jan. 20 are not guaranteed a seat at that school. Typically, a student is accepted or turned away based on how many seats are available in his or her grade level.
While the Wake County school board plans to uncap enrollment at one Cary school next year, it also plans to place limits on three new schools – raising the total number of capped schools in Cary from three to five.
Four of the five soon-to-be capped schools are in west Cary, where residential development has outpaced the construction of infrastructure. But the Wake County school district doesn’t expect to open a new middle school there until 2019 or a high school until 2018.
In recent months, Cary’s council has routinely asked developers to reduce the density of their proposed residential projects – even going so far as to indefinitely table a proposal to bring 130 homes to west Cary until county officials address crowding in the area.
Cary councilman Jack Smith wondered how else the town could help the county address the problem.
“We’ve got to come up with ways to help them find better locations,” Smith said. “I don’t know how to solve the problem. I’m looking forward to helping them come up with solutions.”
Town leaders may also talk about controversial state legislation that affects Wake County and North Carolina municipalities, Cary councilman Don Frantz said.
He noted one bill the General Assembly is considering that would prevent municipalities from regulating some residential developments. Frantz also opposes another bill that would kill off protest petitions, a tool residents can use to try to control development around their property.
Wake and Cary leaders could form a bond to fight some legislation or simply work together to deal with their ramifications, he said.
“A lot of people still think we’re just this bedroom suburb of Raleigh,” Frantz said, citing the town’s population of 150,000 and identity as a technology destination. “Obviously that’s not the case anymore. We’re a player in the state.”