Wake boards continue pursuit of $810M school bond
Posted May 16, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County commissioners and Board of Education members appear to be moving closer to asking voters to approve an $810 million school bond that would allow for the construction of 16 new schools in the next 10 years.
In a meeting Thursday morning, County Commission Chairman Joe Bryan called the proposed bond – which would cost the average Wake County homeowner an extra $75 to $150 a year in property taxes – a "modest, reasonable plan" that needs to be "fine-tuned."
Board of Education Chairman Keith Sutton agreed.
Bonds are sold by governments to raise money for capital projects, and they are repaid by taxpayers over time. A bond in the neighborhood of $810 million, combined with $130 million from the county, would allow the school system to build as many as 16 new schools, including 11 elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools.
Six other schools would undergo major renovations.
It’s unclear if that would be enough to alleviate the needs of a rapidly growing school system.
School board members have been adamant in previous meetings that any bond amount will barely help the school system keep up with growth.
The student population in Wake County increases at about a rate of 2.5 to 3 percent, or about 3,000 new students, each school year, and school officials have previously said 25 new schools are needed over the next 10 years.
The two sides have been at odds in recent months over both the amount of the bond and who would control it, but legislation headed to the North Carolina House could end the second, and more contentious, debate.
Senate Bill 236, which passed by a 33-15 vote Wednesday, would give commissioners in 10 counties – including Wake and Harnett – control of area school buildings and land.
Bryan told the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday there are "numerous examples" of the school board wasting taxpayer money by not performing appraisals before trying to acquire land for a school and not maintaining construction checklists.
"We're constantly having these struggles," Bryan said. "They've become a 'board of construction' and not a board of education focused on the academic excellence that needs to occur in our classrooms."
School board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner told the committee the two boards have worked together in the past, and the legislation would upset the balance of power.
"This legislation is truly a solution in search of a problem," Kushner said. "We do not need a state law for Wake County to address the matters that duly elected officials can solve together."
The North Carolina School Boards Association said all nine school boards impacted by the bill oppose it. For a bond amount to appear on the ballot in the fall, the boards will have to agree on an amount by June.
School board member Jim Martin said the back-and-forth between the boards has disheartened residents, making them less likely to approve the bond.
"The public is not going to support this until we know who is in place that is actually going to build the school," he said. "Let's see a business plan. Let's see what the cost are going to be. Let's be honest to the public."