Wake County school leaders moved forward Tuesday on a variety of fronts – acting on last week’s passage of the $810 million school construction bond issue, beefing up school safety and expanding educational opportunities for high school students.
The school board kicked off the system’s next construction program by purchasing land for an elementary school and approving an agreement for a long-proposed school in North Raleigh – all projects made possible by the passage of the bonds. At a board meeting Tuesday, school board members and administrators thanked the public for their vote.
“It really warms my heart to know that we’re in a community where the majority of the people support making the investment in their public schools and in our students,” school board member Susan Evans said.
The school bond issue provides most of the funding for a $939.9 million school construction program that will pay for 16 new schools, major renovations at six schools, smaller repairs at 79 schools, technology upgrades and other projects.
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Funding from the bonds won’t enter the system until the summer or fall of 2014. But in the meantime, the school system is using $43.8 million from bonds sold this year to jump-start projects.
One of the first items reactivated Tuesday was the purchase of land for new schools. Earlier this year, school administrators identified 36 new schools that they’d like to build in the next two construction programs.
Betty Parker, the director of real estate services, said it’s getting harder to find usable sites. She said that administrators might need to consider options such as condemnation, building smaller schools and long-term leases to procure enough locations.
“We’re going to be using some innovative approaches,” Parker said. “It won’t be as clear-cut in the past acquiring properties.”
On Tuesday, the board agreed to buy land for an elementary school in Cary near the border of Durham County. But the board rejected an offer for a site for an elementary school in the northwest Cary/Morrisville area.
The board also approved agreements with Wake County and the city of Raleigh to lease for $10 a year – rather than pay for – the site of the new Abbotts Creek Elementary School, saving $675,000. Funding for the school, which will built next to the former North Wake Landfill in Raleigh, will come from the bond issue approved last week. It’s scheduled to open in 2015.
Funding for counselors
The school board also gave the staff the thumbs-up to continue work on what could be a costly plan for improving safety.
School administrators backed several of the recommendations made by a task force that was formed following the December school massacre in Connecticut.
One big-ticket item backed by school staff is the hiring of more counselors, social workers and psychologists. It would cost an estimated $25 million a year to bring Wake up to recommended national school staffing ratios.
“We’re looking at a phased plan because of the amount of money it would cost,” said Marrius Pettiford, senior director of counseling and student services.
Another recommendation backed by staff is to conduct an independent audit to determine the minimum security requirements for every school. Russ Smith, senior director of security, said the costs of conducting the audit and carrying out its recommendations are uncertain.
Marvin Connelly, assistant superintendent for support services, said administrators will come back with more detailed financial costs for the recommendations. The board will decide later what to include in the budget proposal.
Partnering with St. Aug’s
A pair of long-discussed high school efforts moved forward Tuesday.
The school board agreed to partner with St. Augustine’s University to provide college courses for students at the district’s two single-gender leadership academies.
Under the agreement, upperclassmen at the leadership academies will take college courses at St. Aug’s campus near downtown Raleigh. Wake has been searching for a college partner for the academies since William Peace University broke off negotiations over providing on-campus courses in April 2012.
School officials also said that the academies will work with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences as part of a new STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program that will be added to the leadership theme.
In a separate deal, the school board approved agreements with both Wake County and Wake Technical Community College to become partners in a new career and technical education high school.
Students will be able to take specialized courses – such as plumbing, automobile collision repair, refrigeration and cosmetology – designed to help them get jobs after graduation. Wake Tech will teach the technical courses at the school, for which the school system will lease the former Coca-Cola facility in South Raleigh that the county is renovating.