School board rethinks year-round schools

WAKE COUNTY The change from a traditional calendar has sparked years of controversy, but with growth slowing down and fewer new students moving to Wake County, change may be coming sooner rather than later.

For the last three years, Wake County schools have planned to build all new schools as year-round schools. But now the school board is taking a big step back.

They are looking at all options, including scrapping all year-round schools altogether.

Wake County schools are still growing, but not quite as fast as forecast.

The 137,000 students attending school this year is actually about 2 percent fewer than expected. Administrators say it's the housing slow-down.

"It's a question of when can people in other parts of the country sell their homes and afford to move here. So it makes it pretty hard to estimate what's going to happen," Assistant Superintendant Chuck Dulaney said.

The numbers now have the school board re-thinking year-round schools.

"Our planning has assumed that every new school would be year-round, which means an increasingly large percentage of Wake Schools would be year-round. And we're not sure that's what families want," School Board member Lori Millberg said.

In fact, many families protested year-round schools and some sued to stop mandatory year-round calendars.

A final decision is now pending in the state supreme court.

Until then, Wake County administrators have now drawn up five scenarios, ranging from converting all schools to year-round, to reverting all schools back to traditional schedules with summer breaks.

Many board members said they want something in between.

"There is a willingness to reconvert some schools back to traditional and to open some new schools as traditional calendar schools," School Board member Ron Margiotta said.

School officials stressed different school calendars could mean huge differences in building costs.

By 2015, a total year-round school district could mean building only 16 new schools, at a cost of $675 million. But putting all students on a traditional calendar could mean building 62 schools for a price tag of more than $2 billion.

"It will come at a price tag. And we'll have to look at what Wake County citizens are willing to pay for it," Millberg said.

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