Harnett County growth puts strain on schools

Posted July 25, 2013

— Overcrowded schools and long bus rides for children are not a new problem in many parts of North Carolina, and Harnett County is the latest school district to buckle under overwhelming growth.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has seen a 25 percent population increase since 2000, especially to the west, where military families from nearby Fort Bragg are steadily moving into the area. 

Many children in the sprawling new housing developments along N.C. Highway 87 near the Army post are bused to Boone Trail Elementary School in Mamers – nearly 20 miles away – a trip that can take an hour on back roads, parents said. New houses keep sprouting up in that area, compounding the problem.

"When do you have dinner? When do you do your homework?" said Maggy Gray, who moved to Anderson Creek Club a year ago with her husband and three kids. "When do you just get to have some free time?"

Her children attend Overhills Elementary School, which opened five years ago and soon needed trailers to make space for the influx of students. The school is now maxed out.

This spring, Gray said, she heard from other parents about their children being shuffled from school to school to relieve crowding. 

"We realized right away that you can shift the kids all you want, but it still doesn't solve the problem of 'we need more buildings,'" she said. 

So, the stay-at-home mom launched a Facebook campaign called "Building a Better Harnett" to rally community support for new schools.

The battle could be an uphill one. Four times since 2007, voters have rejected a quarter-cent sales tax to build new schools. Gray herself voted against it last year.

"The language of it is very difficult to understand. You don't know what it means," Gray said. 

Maggy Gray Parents rally against overcrowded schools in Harnett County

She wants the referendum on the ballot again this year, but this time, spelling out in plain English that the money is solely for school construction.

"This is what it's for. This is what you're voting for," she said. "This is why we need your help."

County Commission Chairman Jim Burgin said he doesn't support raising property taxes but thinks the sales tax is a fair approach.

"If we could pass the quarter-cent sales tax, that would take care of the elementary school, which is the most pressing need," he said. 

Last year, commissioners voted to borrow $30 million to build a middle school in western Harnett County.

Still, many parents are criticizing county leaders for approving large housing developments before ensuring schools could accommodate them.

"I'd say that's probably true," Burgin said. "We didn't do as good of a job as we should in long-term planning. We're trying to change that now."

Commissioners plan to consider another sales tax referendum at its next board meeting. County leaders also say they're looking at outside funding sources for school construction, including the Department of Defense.

In 2008, commissioners asked for $120 million in federal aid for schools to offset expenses related to an influx of students from military families. At the time, the county received $78 per student in federal aid, compared to $323 per student in neighboring Cumberland County.


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  • kuzindwight Jul 26, 2013

    This is real simple everyone.

    The sales tax increase will not fix all of the issues but it is a step in the right direction. The sales tax will bring in more revenue if we can bring in businesses along the HWY 87 corridor to match the new growth in the area. Will it build the 4 schools the school board says Harnett needs now, no, but it will start to build some of the schools that are needed. There will need to be other measures, such as budget redistribution, to continue to fund the growth.

    The fact is the western half of the county has a planned growth of 15,699 lots, some of which have already been developed. This is land the county has ALREADY sold for development and the county needs to figure out how to support those new property tax payers.

    Anyone politicizing it should be ashamed of themselves. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue, it is a county issue that crosses party lines and the parties should come together to tackle the issue.

  • peplquitwhinin Jul 26, 2013

    The building that is happening in that area is part of master development plans that were passed 7 to 10 years ago. Once those plans are passed you cannot just back up and tell the developers that you changed your mind. Impact fees for new homes have been instituted in other areas, but everybody says no to them because they claim housing prices will go up. People without children fuss about paying extra in property and sales taxes. Meanwhile, property taxes are one of the biggest income sources for schools and look at the number of students in the system that have families that own no real property. It is a huge problem for our county. I wish the solutions were as simple as many of you think it is.

  • lopo Jul 26, 2013

    People are moving to Harnett County, they don't want to live in Fayetteville or Cumberland couty because of the higher taxes, less services and high crime rate. So Harnett is getting more tax money while cumberland is losing tax payers but maaintaining those who don't work or pay taxes and abuse the system.

  • mac240 Jul 26, 2013

    If everybody paid taxes there would be enough money to build schools!

  • Dat MoFo Jul 26, 2013

    "Our Member of Congress, Renee Ellmers is too busy trying to dismantle government to help with the part of the problem caused by military housing in our county."

    Elmers is our representative to Washington DC. Local housing construction is a local issue. Do you really want to DC crowd to get involved is "solving" another one of our problems?

  • thepeopleschamp Jul 25, 2013

    "we're spending way too much money on administration, and hardly anything on the students and teachers. There are four school that can be open back up" Rebelyell55

    Admins (Asst Prins) in the school building work as hard, or harder than any teacher. Now Admins in central offices, who knows? What 4 schools can be reopened? Boone Trail is falling apart, old Lillington HS can only hold few students as it wasn't designed for many, what else is there?

  • Fuquay Resident Jul 25, 2013

    Rebelyell, what 4 schools are you talking about. I know of Boone Trail, Lillington, and Shawtown. What is the other one?

  • Josh-FD8 Jul 25, 2013

    First of all I feel like I need to have my head bashed against a brick wall to remove most of the stupid comments I have read this afternoon on several stories. Secondly the majority republican board in Harnett County was a majority Democrat board when all this new growth was begun. Duh!!! What do you think they built thousands of homes in just a year. No this has been a gradual problem that is neither a republicans fault or a democrats fault. I do like that Mr. Burgin recognized that the entire system messed up in planning for this growth. He did what a great leader should do which is accept fault/blame & move on with it. I also like the mother in this story who is pushing to get the vote done in the right way this year. If everyone would get over the left versus right this country would become strong again. Quit trying to make everything about politics & start correcting the issues. Why is this so hard for adults to understand?

  • WralCensorsAreBias Jul 25, 2013

    You guys better wake up and pass a school bond.

    If you don't all schools will have to go to year round and you know what that means.

    If not just ask Wake.

    For the record, I wouldn't pass it either. They'll lie to you until the cows squirt chocolate milk, but this fact will remain, the public isn't interested in more bull from school leaders.

    We've had plenty over the last few years.

  • 1nclady Jul 25, 2013

    For all of you so eager to blame the republicans for everything, you might want to remember they have only been in control since January. The democrats had over a 100 years to create this mess so it's going to take more then 6 months to straighten it out.