Taxpayers group comes out against $810M Wake schools bond
Posted August 5, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — The Wake County Taxpayers Association said Monday it opposes an $810 million school construction bond going up for a public vote on Oct. 8 that would help accommodate an additional 20,000 students over the next five years in the state's largest school system.
"Our concerns are the increasing bond debt that Wake County has, concerns about whether or not we truly need the additional school buildings," the group's chairman, Ed Jones, said.
Nearly 150,000 students attend the Wake County Public School System, and school district and county leaders project a 2 percent annual growth will push classrooms past capacity.
The bond – the first since 2006 when voters approved a $970 million referendum on school construction – would cover the cost of 16 new schools and six major renovations as well as the upgrade of technology and security.
As for debt from the 2006 bond, county leaders say another bond won't affect the county's AAA bond rating.
But Jones also cited a tax increase on residents as another reason the Taxpayers Association, which helped defeat a school bond in 1999, opposes the referendum.
It would require a 5-cent hike in property taxes, meaning, for example, that a Wake County homeowner with a house worth $200,000 would see a $100 annual increase.
"We want careful use of our tax money, wise expenditure of our tax money and not putting any taxes on us that are not necessary," Jones said.
Jones said he also believes that the number of school-age children attending private or charter or home schools, currently at 17 percent, will continue to rise.
"We feel students are beginning to go to more private schools," Jones said. "There's more in-home schooling being done, and the state has recently removed the cap on charter schools, and we think more students will go to these schools, and it will lessen the need for new buildings."
Bond supporters, however, have said that schools have to be built by law and that the funding to build them has to come from somewhere.
Friends of Wake County, the group tasked with selling the bond to the public, said that with no other source of revenue, bonds are the least expensive way to borrow money.
Even with the tax hike, the group said, Wake County would still have one of the lower tax rates in the state.
Friends of Wake County co-chair Billie Redmond countered Jones' concerns, saying a strong school system is also an economic driver for the county.
"When you start thinking, 'Why do people come? Why do people stay?' a big piece of that is the educational resources we offer our families and our children," Redmond said.
She points out that the bond is about more than bricks and mortar, it's about advanced technology, quality education and quality of life.
"Let's look at the cost of non-education or poor education. We see where that takes a community. We certainly don't want that," she said. "Missing the opportunity to educate a child is really hard to recover."