As the population of Johnston County continues to increase, county commissioners and school board members are looking at ways to address future space needs in schools.
County commissioners and school board members met in a joint meeting Monday night and listened to possible solutions to the overcrowding issues in nearly half of its schools. During a presentation, Mike Miller, the program manager for Operations Research and Education Labratory (OREd) at N.C. State, a research group that works on growth issues in schools, said the district population has more than doubled in the past 20 years.
In 1994, the district population was 15,665, and it has increased to 34,110 in 2014. That number will continue to grow as the county grows, he said.
Two years ago, voters agreed to issue $57 million in bonds for nearly a dozen capital projects. The county, which is handling the cash flow for the schools, has sold the first round of bonds, which will pay for a new Cleveland middle school, a high school gym, an elementary school expansion and high school renovations.
Nearly 650 students are enrolled at the current North Johnston Middle, which has a capacity of about 550 students. The current middle school building, located on East Main Street in Micro, will become an elementary school. Both schools should open for the 2015-16 school year.
Building started last fall on a new North Johnston Middle School in Micro.
River Dell Elementary has one of the biggest overcrowding problems in the Johnston County Schools district. There are 899 students enrolled at River Dell, which has a capacity of 586 students. River Dell will be one of the schools that will be addressed under the bond.
“River Dell is one of those (residential) districts that is experiencing a lot of growth and a lot of residential development,” Miller said.
According to projections, in 10 years, more than half of the schools in Johnston County will be more than 105 percent overcrowded.
He said the expansion at River Dell will give the school district a little breathing room but it will still be over capacity based on next school year’s projections. Miller said there are also additional immediate needs, which don’t have funding. Those include relief for Archer Lodge Middle School and others with a new middle school in the Powhatan area. Cleveland and Corinth-Holders High School are both overcapacity.
School board member Peggy Smith said the percentage of overcrowding at the high schools “scared” her. She asked Superintendent Ed Croom, what alternatives there were to adding mobile units.
Croom said the school system could look at shifting district lines or building out the two schools.
School board member Donna White added that when the two high schools were built, they were intended to be smaller schools.
“It was a distinct decision by this board not to do that because we wanted a smaller high school,” she said.
The things that should be on the county’s radar, Miller said, are a new elementary school to provide relief for Polenta and West View and a new elementary school near NC 42 and Buffalo Road to provide relief for River Dell, Corinth Holders and Riverwood.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Tony Braswell said he doesn’t see taxes increasing in the near future. The county is meeting its debt service under the current tax structure, he said.
“As we build growth now with tax base, then we’ll take that money and invest in the schools,” Braswell said.
Braswell added that there is good and bad to the presentation.
“The good thing is that we are growing,” Braswell said. “Fifty-six percent of our budget goes to education and we will continue that trend. The bad is coming up with the resources to do it in a timely manner. In a perfect environment, we could build two or three more schools just like that, but we have to make sure we do it in a manner that is satisfactory.”