School board considers fewer year-round schools

Wake County school board members asked administrators today to draw upscenarios 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 ifthey opened some or all new schools on a traditional calendar as part ofthe next bond issue that could be on the ballot in 2009. They want tocompare it to the cost of keeping to the current plan of opening all newelementary and middle schools on a year-round calendar.

"We need to let the taxpayers know what all the options are," saidschool board member Lori Millberg at today's facilities committeemeeting.

Year-round schools have been one of the most contentious issues facingthe school district in recent years, leading to a lawsuit that's limitedhow Wake can assign students to those schools.

School leaders have pushed for more year-round schools because they canhold more students than traditional-calendar schools by putting thebuildings in constant use.

The school board agreed to convert 22 existing schools to a year-roundcalendar and open all new elementary and middle schools on that scheduleas part of a bond issue approved by voters in 2006.

But Wake CARES, a parent group, filed a lawsuit in March 2007 againstthe school district's use of mandatory year-round schools.

Last May, Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. ruled thatthe school district needs parental consent to send students toyear-round and modified-calendar schools.

Parents of more than 2,200 students refused to give their consent thisyear, leading to empty seats at several year-round schools andovercrowding at some traditional-calendar schools.

School administrators want to know by next month whether the schoolboard and county commissioners want to keep to the current year-roundplans for the next bond issue. Both boards are expected to discuss theissue at a May 21 joint meeting.

School administrators say that it will increase the size of the bondissue if they reduce the use of new year-round schools. They said itwould mean building more traditional-calendar schools to equal thecapacity that could be built from a smaller number of year-roundschools.

Millberg said today that the difficulty they've had getting students toattend year-round schools means they can't just continue to increase thepercentage of those schools. More than 40 percent of the elementaryschools and a quarter of the middle schools are now on the year-roundcalendar.

Millberg said it might make more sense to keep the current percentage ofyear-round schools by opening some of the new ones on a traditionalcalendar.

Also today, administrators laid out other potential cost implications.

Administrators said it would cost $350 million in additional schools, ontop of those that would be built to keep up with growth, to reduce thepercentage of students in mobile classrooms to 8 percent by 2015. It'scurrently at around 19 percent district-wide.

Beverley Clark, vice chairwoman of the school board, said a 12 percentgoal might be more realistic.

Administrators also said it could cost an additional $118 million tobuild enough schools to reduce the percentage of students housed inschools. To cut costs, the school district has tried on average to fillschools at 100 percent of capacity.

But administrators say that only filling elementary and middle schoolsto 95 percent and high schools to 97.5 percent would give them moreflexibility to deal with growth and reduce the amount of studentreassignment.

"You're looking a t a large program," said Chuck Dulaney, assistantsuperintendent for growth and planning, "Achieving these goals will becostly."