With credit markets frozen, the country can't borrow money to build and renovate schools like it wants and needs to.
Officials are faced with hard choices about which projects to stall or delay and which to push forward.
"Clearly I can't say which schools it will be, but the key is that we'll have a process that we will be looking at how far to take each school development," school board member Beverly Clark said.
Leaders are also wrestling with new growth projections, which have slowed along with the economy. New housing permits are the lowest they have been since 1995.
It was once predicted the school system would have 195,000 students by 2015. One model projects the number to be 170,000.
All of a sudden, what to build and where to build it and on what school calendar are issues that have to be looked at through an entirely new lens.
"It would be great if you could just pull something off the shelf and read the third page and know what the answer is, but it is a little bit unprecedented," Wake County Commissioner Kenn Gardner said.
Officials pledged to cooperate and work together in order to get through the financial crisis.