With voters going to the polls next month to decide on an $810 million school construction bond referendum, Wake County school officials say the district is growing faster than expected this school year.
School officials recently released figures showing that the district has 153,152 students – 3,644 students more than last school year. School and county staff had projected that Wake would have 152,684 students this year, or 3,176 more than last year.
Growth projections have become a source of heated debate in this fall’s school bond campaign.
Bond supporters argue that the money is needed to keep up with projections showing that Wake could add 20,000 students by 2018. The bonds would pay for the bulk of a $939.9 million school construction program that would include 16 new schools, major renovations at six schools, replacement of aging systems at 79 schools and other projects.
“I firmly believe that the student enrollment projections that have been used to build the program are extremely conservative,” school board member Bill Fletcher said at a candidate forum last week. “They’re way below what we’re actually going to experience in growth.”
But bond opponents dispute whether Wake will grow as fast as projected, pointing to how figures used for the 2006 bond issue projected Wake would have 20,000 more students than it does now. They also say that growth in charter schools, with potentially as many as 20 seeking approval to open in Wake in 2015, will reduce the need for the bonds.
“If you look at the estimation of the growth throughout the past, it’s been over-inflated,” school board candidate Matt Scruggs said at a candidate forum Tuesday.
Enrollment projections are jointly developed by school and county staff. Enrollment came in 910 students less than projected last year in part, according to planners, because of an increase in students going to charter schools.
This year’s total of 153,152 students was from Sept. 9, the 10th day of classes. School officials use the 10th-day figure each year to adjust how many teachers are assigned to each school.
This year’s official enrollment will come later this month based on how many students are present on the 20th day of classes. In addition to being the largest school system in North Carolina, Wake entered this school year as the 16th largest nationally.
Staff writer Kyle Jahner contributed to this report.