The Wake County Public School System updated its projections for student enrollment growth this week. The new figures shift enrollment projections down by approximately 1,000 students each year.
Enrollment projections are foundational to understanding the district’s need for additional seats. In 2013, Wake County voters approved a capital improvement plan providing $810 million in funding for building 16 schools and renovating six more. It follows then that questions would arise about whether or not the district still needs all the seats it plans to build.
The answer is a resounding yes.
The district is still growing by 2,000 students a year. That’s a large high school or two elementary schools full of students added every year. And currently, 25,000 student seats are considered temporary. This means they are in mobile units or pods. Superintendent Merrill noted that though the pressure for new schools may be less, “the gap between permanent and mobile seats never closes.”
The district did see its market share drop this year. Having held steady at serving 83 percent of all school-age students in Wake County for some time, the number dropped to near 81 percent this year. Increases in both charter school enrollment and home schools explain the shift.
And, school board member Bill Fletcher noted that the public schools are still responsible for absorbing any and all of the students within Wake County. In the worst-case scenario of a charter school closing during the school year, those students must be served by the county school district should they choose to enroll.
That worst-case scenario, while admittedly rare, has happened. StudentFirst Academy Charter in Charlotte closed on April 15, 2014, sending 300 students to find new classrooms. At the current WCPSS growth rate of 2,000 students a year, absorbing 300 students would be a 15% increase over typical growth.
You can learn more about the 2013 Capital Improvement Plan on the WCPSS website. You’ll find a complete list of construction and renovation projects, a map of where they will take place across Wake County, and a timeline and status report of active projects.