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System added 350 students by week's end
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Students move through the halls at Lambert High last week. The new school has topped its projected enrollment. - photo by Jim Dean

The first five days of the new school year came to a close with more students but few problems in Forsyth County.

“We had an outstanding first week of school,” said Bruce Wagar, safety director for the local school district. “Although traffic congestion increased as we anticipated ... I could not have asked for better results.”

Car lines were “extremely long” as many parents chose to take their children to school the first week, Wagar said. Those lines should start to thin by the end of this week.

“We didn’t have an event where I had to send someone to assist,” he said. “... The schools also had plenty of assistance for students, especially in the new schools ... to get youngsters down the right hallway and into the right class.”

As of Friday, the system's enrollment stood at 34,028 students, or about 350 more than were registered Monday.

That might sound like a lot, but Sue Derison said there will be "students coming in and students going out on a daily basis” throughout the school year.

“350 students over is 10 per school, which means one to two per grade, so it’s not terribly difficult to absorb that,” said Derison, the system's director of information systems and support.

The number of students who didn’t show up for school was higher this year than years past. In the 2007-08 school year, about 1,290 students didn’t attend the first day of school. This year, more than 1,540 were considered no-shows.

Many, Derison said, “just moved somewhere else.”

“I think it’s the economy, people losing jobs,” she said. “We all see the foreclosure notices in the paper.”

Five new campuses made their debut last week, including Lambert High, Lakeside Middle and Brookwood, Haw Creek and Whitlow elementary schools.

As a result, the majority of the system’s schools have fewer students than last year.

Lambert was the only one of the district's five high schools to have exceeded its projected enrollment, though most elementary and middle schools, including the other four new facilities, had more students than expected.

Students returning to South Forsyth High School noticed about 1,000 fewer classmates roaming the hallways. North and West Forsyth high schools each added about 200 more students, giving North the largest enrollment in the county.

Cumming and Vickery Creek elementary schools shed nearly 500 students this year.

That’s one of the reasons school board member Mike Dudgeon spoke against building Kelly Mill Elementary. The school, slated for 2011, would alleviate the need for 28 trailers at Cumming, Midway, Sawnee, Midway and Vickery Creek elementary schools.

“I have real reservations of building this school, even if it does save trailers, because of the tax implications," Dudgeon said during the board's work session Thursday. "And because in this economy right now ... I would rather use that money to pay off interest and bond payments.”

The state would pay more than $7.9 million toward Kelly Mill's construction, leaving the school system to cover the nearly $8.4 million remainder.

The system has about $19.5 million in reserves from which it could draw for the school, but Dudgeon noted the money could also pay down the system’s debt.

Citing the current economic conditions, officials estimated that the school would cost more than $2 million less to build than Brookwood, whose design it would mirror.