The Wake County school system grew this year by the smallest total in nearly a quarter-century – coming 750 students below projections for this fall.
School officials said Friday that the district’s official enrollment for the 2014-15 school year is 155,184 students – 1,884 more than the previous year. Wake hasn’t seen that small an increase since 1990, when the district was less than half its current size and gained 1,781 students that year.
School officials were unable to explain why this year’s increase was so small. The district had been projected by school and county planners to have 155,934 students this fall.
This year’s totals come after voters approved an $810 million school construction bond issue in October 2013. School leaders are talking about the need for another referendum in 2016.
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During last year’s bond campaign, the Wake County Taxpayers Association had disputed enrollment projections that the district could have 171,915 students by the 2018-19 school year.
The Taxpayers Association pointed to how the projections used to justify a $970 million school construction bond issue passed by voters in 2006 overestimated enrollment by more than 20,000 students. Bond supporters said the recession led to the numbers coming in lower.
“Historically, they’ve never projected well,” said Anthony Pecoraro, vice president of the Taxpayers Association. “They’ve always overestimated what they would have.”
But Julie Crain, vice president of policy and research for the Wake Education Partnership, a business-backed advocacy group for public education, said what’s important is that the school district is still growing. Wake’s 1,884 new students this year is larger than the total enrollment in 13 of North Carolina’s 115 school districts.
“We haven’t stopped growing – whether our numbers are above or below projection,” she said. “We’re still growing. We’re going to be in a cycle of needing more schools.”
Crain authored a report released two weeks ago called “Here We Grow Again,” which talked about Wake’s growth challenges. The report pointed to figures such as how 22 babies are born on average each day in Wake County and how the county grows by an average rate of 62 people per day.
This year’s smaller-than-projected growth comes after last year’s gain of 3,792 students was the largest since the 2007-08 school year. Wake has grown by 41,116 students over the past decade.
Wake remains the largest school district in the state, ahead of the 145,363 students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. But Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s net gain of 2,751 students was higher than Wake’s growth.
Wake also remains the 16th-largest school district in the nation, behind the Dallas Independent School District in Texas.
Database manager David Raynor contributed to this report.