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Wake Officials, Critics Divided On Consequences If Bond Issue Doesn't Pass

Posted May 17, 2006

— Wake County is in a classroom crisis. The district is even running out of playground space to put modular classrooms. School leaders say they'll launch a large campaign to educate parents and taxpayers about the desperate need for construction money in a proposed $1 billion bond. But what if that bond doesn't pass?

"We will have to go back to the drawing boards, and there will be some pretty drastic changes we'll have to make," said school board Chairwoman Patti Head.

Instead of converting around one-third of elementary schools to year-round schedules, Head said all elementary schools, and even middle schools, would have to go to year-round schedules in order to make space.

"It could go even further to possibly looking at split schedules," said Head.

That would mean dividing high schools into morning and afternoon sessions -- a last resort, but one Head said is a possibility if the bond doesn't pass.

However, some tax hike opponents believe the talk of drastic changes wouldn't pan out in the end.

"I think the mandatory year-round talk is a scare tactic," said Francis De Luca, who heads the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a grassroots non-profit that fights for fiscal restraint in government.

De Luca says the $1 billion bond is too big, and if it fails, schools would survive.

"If the bond doesn't pass, they will figure out a way to make things," said De Luca.

School leaders insist they're not trying to scare the public. The desperation, they say, is reality.

Both sides agree that that if the bond doesn't pass, taxes may go up anyway. Wake County schools need more money to cover basic improvements, and a tax hike could provide that funding.

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