Wake school leaders, county commissioners discuss $2 billion school plan

File photo of Apex High School.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Wake County Schools and County leaders met Wednesday to discuss the future of school growth and funding.

Wednesday afternoon’s joint meeting between the school board and the county commission focused on the construction and renovation needs for schools over the next seven years.

The Triangle continues to be a hot spot for people to live and work and Wake County Schools is feeling the population boom. Wake County school administrators project there will be an additional 20,904 students in the district by 2022.

The number of students in the school system keeps growing, but officials are struggling on where to put them.

The plan outlined Wednesday night calls for the construction of 15 new schools (10 elementary, 2 middle, 3 high). Additionally, seven more schools would go out to bid in toward the end of that seven-year phase (5 elementary, 1 middle, 1 high).

Projected costs are about $358.9 million per year, plus inflation. In addition to construction of new schools, that funding would also cover renovations of existing schools such as Apex High School, as well as technology, land acquisition and other costs.

Board chairman Tom Benton said the goal of starting conversations about the plan now is to “help the county plan more long term and smooth out any kind of big tax increases.”

Wake County voters last approved a bond referendum in 2013. Under this plan, voters could be asked to cast votes on a more regular basis, every two years beginning in 2018.

It’s possible a referendum could end up on the ballot as soon as this year. However, county commissioners are already planning to ask voters to approve a half-cent increase in the sales tax to fund a new transit plan.

“The key word here is balance. We want to balance the priorities of transit, of education, of human services,” said County Commissioner Jessica Holmes.

“The frustration I think for all of us is we have two increasing curves. One is student growth, the other is construction and we can’t close the gap,” Jim Merrill, Wake County Schools superintendent, said last year about growth.

A year has gone by, but the school system is dealing with the same problem.

“Obviously I would rather not pay to have other people’s kids go to school but I know it’s an important reason for money to go to,” said Anne Richards, Wake County resident.

In 2013, voters passed and $810 million bond that allowed for the construction of 16 new schools, but some parents are worries that their kids may have to switch schools.

School officials say they hope to work with the board of commissioners on a plan for the future.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first in what’s expected to be a series. The next meeting date hasn’t been set, but it’s expected the school board and county commission will meet at least two more times this spring.

 

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