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New Poll: Majority Shows Favor For Wake School Bond

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A new poll released Thursday suggests a $970 million Wake County school construction bond would pass on Election Day.

The poll, conducted and released by Public Policy Polling, surveyed 471 likely Wake County voters and found that 49 percent expect to vote for the bond. Forty-one percent indicated they intend to vote against the bond, and 9 percent said they are undecided.

Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh group that represents many Democratic clients, says there is a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The results were released one day after a WRAL-TV/News & Observer poll that showed 54 percent of likely voters in Wake County oppose the construction bond and 35 percent support it. Eleven percent are undecided. That survey, conducted by Research 2000 of Rockville, Md., has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Wake County school officials say the bond would finance construction of 17 schools and renovation of 13 others, as well as pay for a number of other costs associated with the school system's burgeoning student population.

If approved, it would raise property taxes up to 4.7 cents per $100 of assessed property value. For example, a homeowner with a house worth $200,000 would pay an additional $94 in property taxes a year. School construction would begin immediately.

Bond opponents believe the school system should seek alternatives, such as working with private developers to build and lease schools and lobbying lawmakers for more charter schools. They say a smaller bond could also get voter approval if it concentrates solely on the school system's construction needs.

"We are going to come back next year and pass a smaller bond -- about $650 million -- and couple that with important school reform," said Dallas Woodhouse with Americans for Prosperity, which opposes the $970 million bond.

Most Board of Education members say they believe every aspect of the current bond package is vital.

"We can cut out sports fields, we can cut out electives --the amenities that we have in Wake County that make us such a good school system -- and I hate to see us take that road," said school board member Carol Parker.

If the bond fails, it is unclear what move the school system would make, partly because four Wake County Commission seats are also on the November ballot. School board members say they do not know who will be talking about options if the referendum fails.

Last year, a $427 million school bond for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools failed. Former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin chaired a committee that recommended Certificates of Participation. They could also be an option for Wake County.

The county would be able to finance about $625 million in construction costs with Certificates of Participation. Unlike a General Obligation Bond, the certificates do not require voter approval, but they do have a higher interest rate. The funding would not be immediate, but would be allocated at about $60 million a year over the next 10 years.

Dr. Bill Atkinson, chairman of Friends of Wake County, wants the bond to pass so Certificates of Participation can be avoided.

"That would cost about $56 million additional to do the exact thing proposed in the bond," he said.

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