Planning begins for next Wake County school building program

Planning is starting for the next big Wake County school-construction program that could put a bond referendum on the ballot as soon as 2016.

Wake is in the midst of a $990 million construction program that’s largely funded by an $810 million bond referendum approved by voters in October 2013. But with new enrollment projections showing Wake could add 19,658 students by 2020, administrators said it would take $348.4 million a year worth of new schools and renovations to keep pace.

School administrators told school board members Wednesday that they’re beginning to identify what should be included in the next building program. A list of major renovation projects could be given to the board in May.

“I love this planning, but it’s very clear that this is barely treading water,” school board member Jim Martin said at Wednesday’s facilities committee meeting. “In fact, this is not even treading-water numbers yet.”

Joe Desormeaux, assistant superintendent for facilities, said it’s too soon to say when the system would ask the Wake County Board of Commissioners to put a school construction-bond referendum on the ballot. But recent state election law changes have complicated the issue for municipalities and counties.

Special elections such as a referendum on a bond issue can now only be held in even-numbered years. This means the next two possible dates for a school bond referendum would be the May 2016 primary and the November 2016 general election.

Based on the new restrictions in state law, Martin said, Wake County can’t afford to wait until 2018 for a school bond referendum.

“We have to go forward in ’16 unless we’re going to have schools grow on trees,” he said.

School board Chairwoman Christine Kushner said there’s been no discussion yet with commissioners about the date of the next school bond.

Deputy County Manager Johnna Rogers said a decision would have to be made no later than six months before a referendum is on the ballot to give the Wake County Board of Elections sufficient planning time.

Hui: 919-829-4534; Twitter: @nckhui

School calendar decisions coming in summer

Wake County school administrators said Wednesday the school board needs to decide by the end of July which schools will change calendars for the 2016-17 school year.

Some overcrowded traditional-calendar schools could be converted to the multi-track, year-round calendar or receive additional classroom trailers to increase how many students they can hold. Some under-enrolled year-round schools could be converted to the traditional calendar.

Administrators tentatively plan to identify on May 13 which schools are being considered for conversion. The district would get community feedback before an official recommendation is presented, potentially on June 16. A board vote is tentatively scheduled for July 21.