RALEIGH, N.C. — In a WRAL/News and Observer Poll last week, Wake County voters said the taxes are too high and the incentives too low to support the upcoming vote on the $970 million school bond package.
In a random sampling of voters, 54 percent opposed the bond, 35 percent supported it, and 11 percent were undecided.
Research 2000, a polling company from Rockville, Md., conducted the telephone survey from Oct. 16 through 19. The demographic breakdown represented Wake County as a whole.
More than half the opponents said they opposed the property tax hike, which would add $94 a year to the bill for a $200,000 home.
Parents with students in Wake Schools who opposed the bond issue were more divided. Twenty-six percent opposed the bond because they oppose mandatory year-round schools, 33 percent said they had lost confidence in the school system, and 38 percent said they oppose the tax hike.
When asked what the solution to school growth should be, 53 percent of the overall group said to avoid taxes, no matter how many schools would be converted to mandatory year-round schools. Forty-seven percent of voters with children in Wake County public schools said they would also rather avoid taxes and take a mandatory year-round schedule.
"Any poll is a snapshot," said Wake County Schools Superintendent Del Burns. "It’s a moment in time, and obviously this gives us pause. We have to be concerned about it, but there’s still two weeks until the vote and during the two weeks, quite a bit can happen."
Burns said county commissioners could raise taxes even if the bond issue fails.
"I can’t see how we can seat all the children, (and) have the capacity we need without more resources," said Burns. "That does require additional funding."
Opponents of the bond said they believe the poll shows voters are losing confidence in the school system.
"The people in this poll are saying very clearly, this is a vote on the system," said Francis DeLuca with Americans for Prosperity. DeLuca’s group is part of a coalition of opponents called Wake County Citizens for a Quality Education.
DeLuca wants a smaller bond that doesn't raise taxes but implements alternatives like smaller pieces of property for new schools and scaling down renovation projects that don't add space.
"They’re not serious about priority No. 1, and that is capacity," said DeLuca. "Instead of addressing that, they’re addressing a bunch of other things that have nothing to do with capacity."
The school board says it must make older schools safer and move quickly to build new ones. About 40,000 additional students are expected over the next five years.
Supporters also pointed to other polls that show the bond would pass.
"There are polls that are up and there are polls that are down," said Burns.
One thing that both sides agree on is that the fight isn't over.
"What happens in the next two weeks will matter," said DeLuca.
School board members haven’t discussed a Plan B. However, county commissioners could finance some construction with what are called Certificates of Participation (COPS). They come at a higher interest rate than general obligation bonds. The commissioners could get about $625 million with COPS, but the money wouldn’t be available all at once. It would be spread out over 10 years, giving the school system about $60 million a year to fund projects.
County Commission Chair Tony Gurley told WRAL two weeks ago that no one can assume what will happen if the bond fails.
"People should not be making any assumptions about what would happen," Gurley said. "They should not assume that county commissioners would spend more because that is what they want. They should not assume that we wouldn’t spend anything because that is what they want us to do."
Gurley did add that he doesn’t think county commissioners would view a failed bond as a reason to raise taxes.