Faced with an influx of new students and already crowded schools, a Wake County school board committee on Monday backed forming a task force to work with the area’s municipalities on dealing with problems caused by growth.
School board members said they want all ideas on the table for dealing with growth, including fees on developers and allowing towns to consider the impact of new developments on school capacity. But it would likely take state legislative approval for some of the changes the task force would discuss.
“What we want to be able to do is to have a forum to discuss all of these options and more, and have the community and all stakeholders weigh in on the challenges we have,” school board member Keith Sutton said Monday. “We’re a fast-growing community and I don’t know that there are many communities around the country that are experiencing the same challenges that we are.”
As chairman of the board’s government-relations committee, Sutton proposed forming a school district growth-issues task force. The proposal was backed by the rest of the committee, which voted to send the idea to the full board for approval.
The proposal comes at a time when the state’s largest school system is facing growth pressures, particularly in western and southwestern Wake. With 155,000 students, Wake has consistently been growing by about 3,000 students a year.
Wake has 20 crowded schools under enrollment caps this school year, meaning newcomers are sent to schools that are more distant from the new residents’ neighborhoods, but that have space.
Earlier this month, the board voted to convert one Cary school to a multitrack year-round calendar and to add five classroom trailers to two other Cary schools to deal with crowding.
Residents have asked the Cary Town Council to block requests for new residential developments until overcrowding is reduced, while real-estate agents have complained that enrollment caps are hurting home resale values.
In the past month, Cary and Holly Springs have approved requests that could place 269 new homes near crowded schools
“We’re at a point where we need to seriously look at the planning and zoning,” school board member Jim Martin said.
Sutton said he modeled the new group on the Wake County Growth Issues Task Force that met in 2008 and 2009.
He said the new school task force could consist of a wide range of people, including elected officials, parents, real-estate agents and builders.
School board members repeatedly said Monday they’re not endorsing or rejecting the use of impact fees.
The state’s courts have ruled that towns can’t impose impact fees or adequate public-facilities ordinances without prior legislative approval. But the General Assembly hasn’t given any additional towns or counties approval to issue these fees since 1989.
But even if fees can’t be imposed, Sutton said, members would like to see whether the housing community could contribute more to help meet school needs.
“We don’t want to leave any option off the table,” he said. “We don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”
Staff writer Paul A. Specht contributed to this report.