Wake County Schools

Billion-dollar school bond likely on Wake ballot in 2018

Posted September 13, 2017 7:52 p.m. EDT

— Wake County voters will likely be asked to approve a nearly $1 billion bond referendum for school construction in 2018.

Twenty-seven new schools are on the Wake County Public School System's project list, while dozens of other schools will undergo some type of renovation in the next seven years.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners has already agreed to fund the $2.2 billion construction plan, but commissioners say taxpayers will need to pitch in to complete the construction plan.

The $1 billion bond, which would be the largest yet for the school district, would entail a 3.25-cent increase to the county's property tax rate, which would add about $81 to the annual tax bill for the owner of a $250,000 house.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Sig Hutchinson called the billion-dollar mark "the magic number," saying commissioners would try to stay below that figure.

"Our voters in the past have supported these bonds. They understand the importance of these bonds," Hutchinson said.

In 2013, voters approved an $810 million bond. In 2006, a $970 million bond passed. In fact, only one of nine school bond referendums in Wake County in the last 30 years has failed.

But officials said a series of tax increases in recent years to fund county operations could make another school bond a tough sell.

"By law, we have to build schools," Hutchinson said. "Bonds are the least expensive way to build schools in that we can borrow money at an incredibly low rate, build the schools to support our incredible education system and then pay it back over time."

Some of the school construction needs were created by a state law mandating smaller class sizes in early grades, which district officials said created the need for about 9,000 more elementary school seats.

"That is a significant impact to our elementary capacity that we're going to have to figure out some way to manage, and building new schools is a part of that," school board member Bill Fletcher said.

Commissioners said they will determine an exact amount for the bond and whether it will be on the ballot in March or November 2018 before the end of the year.

Voters also could see a statewide school construction bond on the ballot next fall. Lawmakers have laid the groundwork for a $1.9 billion bond that would primarily help poorer school districts. The Wake County Public School System would receive almost $124 million from that bond, if approved.