The Hidden Cost of Unprecedented Growth

“And, as usual, we’re opening five new schools this coming year.” – Tom Benton, WCPSS School Board

Only in Wake County – the fastest growing county in the state – would five new schools opening in one year be considered “usual.” Some school districts don’t open five schools in five years.   Of course, Wake County Public School System is the exception. Wake County Public School System remains the largest educational institution in Wake County for K-12 students, educating 81 percent of school age children last year. It’s the lowest figure WCPSS has had for the last decade, but only 1.4 percentage points behind last year. Despite the drop, the district continues to grow by more than 2,000 students annually without breaking a sweat.

To put this in perspective, consider that residential building permits reached a post-recession high of 5,664 in 2015. If only one-third of those households have one school age child, WCPSS’s 81 percent market share would still bring in 1,376 new students. That’s almost enough students to fill Southeast Raleigh High School to capacity and it doesn’t account for multi-child families that may move to the area.

Market share for private (8.9 percent), home (5.4 percent) and charter schools (4.6 percent) all ticked up slightly, with charter schools seeing the biggest jump up from 3.6 percent the year before. Many people look at that and assume the district’s building needs are decreasing, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, since WCPSS has had to build so many schools over the past 15 years, they now have to maintain those buildings and build new ones. Any homeowner can tell you that after about 10 years, it’s time to get new appliances. More than 100 schools in Wake County are more than 20-years-old. Yes, according to our analytics, a majority of the schools in Wake County are older than your child. This means WCPSS has to plan for several renovations and expansions as they continue to build new schools. The district estimates it will cost $2 billion over the next seven years. And while charter schools have expanded, WCPSS must stay ready to potentially absorb more students in case a charter school closes mid-year.

Overall, WCPSS’s market share is similar to other districts throughout the state. As the housing market continues to rebound and more school choices become available, we will continue to monitor the number of parents who choose to send their students to WCPSS.

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