Wake County school board members asked administrators today to draw up scenarios looking at how much it would cost to build fewer year-round schools.
School board members said they want to know what it would look like if they opened some or all new schools on a traditional calendar as part of the next bond issue that could be on the ballot in 2009. They want to compare it to the cost of keeping to the current plan of opening all new elementary and middle schools on a year-round calendar.
"We need to let the taxpayers know what all the options are," said school board member Lori Millberg at today's facilities committee meeting.
Year-round schools have been one of the most contentious issues facing the school district in recent years, leading to a lawsuit that's limited how Wake can assign students to those schools.
School leaders have pushed for more year-round schools because they can hold more students than traditional-calendar schools by putting the buildings in constant use.
The school board agreed to convert 22 existing schools to a year-round calendar and open all new elementary and middle schools on that schedule as part of a bond issue approved by voters in 2006.
But Wake CARES, a parent group, filed a lawsuit in March 2007 against the school district's use of mandatory year-round schools.
Last May, Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. ruled that the school district needs parental consent to send students to year-round and modified-calendar schools.
Parents of more than 2,200 students refused to give their consent this year, leading to empty seats at several year-round schools and overcrowding at some traditional-calendar schools.
School administrators want to know by next month whether the school board and county commissioners want to keep to the current year-round plans for the next bond issue. Both boards are expected to discuss the issue at a May 21 joint meeting.
School administrators say that it will increase the size of the bond issue if they reduce the use of new year-round schools. They said it would mean building more traditional-calendar schools to equal the capacity that could be built from a smaller number of year-round schools.
Millberg said today that the difficulty they've had getting students to attend year-round schools means they can't just continue to increase the percentage of those schools. More than 40 percent of the elementary schools and a quarter of the middle schools are now on the year-round calendar.
Millberg said it might make more sense to keep the current percentage of year-round schools by opening some of the new ones on a traditional calendar.
Also today, administrators laid out other potential cost implications.
Administrators said it would cost $350 million in additional schools, on top of those that would be built to keep up with growth, to reduce the percentage of students in mobile classrooms to 8 percent by 2015. It's currently at around 19 percent district-wide.
Beverley Clark, vice chairwoman of the school board, said a 12 percent goal might be more realistic.
Administrators also said it could cost an additional $118 million to build enough schools to reduce the percentage of students housed in schools. To cut costs, the school district has tried on average to fill schools at 100 percent of capacity.
But administrators say that only filling elementary and middle schools to 95 percent and high schools to 97.5 percent would give them more flexibility to deal with growth and reduce the amount of student reassignment.
"You're looking a t a large program," said Chuck Dulaney, assistant superintendent for growth and planning, "Achieving these goals will be costly."