GARNER, N.C. — With one week until Election Day, supporters and opponents of a $970 million school bond referendum are making a final push to win over voters.
Wake County Schools wants the bond proposal passed to build and renovate dozens of schools to accommodate skyrocketing enrollments. Some groups say cheaper alternatives exist to create space for new students.
A WRAL/News & Observer poll published last week showed 54 percent of likely voters would vote against the bond issue. Other polls show it will pass.
School board member Horace Tart, a bond supporter, described the frenzy of advertising on both sides of the debate as nonstop.
On TV, supporters tout what the bond will buy, such as 17 new schools and 13 major renovation projects
On the radio, opponents fire back. "The rich folks supporting this bond keep saying the property tax increase won't really hurt," the announcer says.
Both sides were in Garner Monday night to broadcast their messages to a town hall meeting on the bond's impact.
"We're going everywhere where people are gathering to try to get the information out," said Francis DeLuca, state director of Americans for Prosperity, which opposes the bond.
Peace College political science professor David McLennan said many voters are still undecided with seven days to go.
"You're looking at now double digits (in polls) of people saying they're not sure. That's a sign that this is a very complicated issue," McLennan said.
Bond supporters are hurt because they don't have a central figure for voters to visualize, he said.
"They know it's supported generally by a number of people, but there's no marquee name out there to really make a case for the bonds," he said.
Meanwhile, bond opponents have a message that is simple to remember, which is to avoid raising taxes, McLennan said.
The atmosphere is similar to 1999, the last time a school construction bond failed, but supporters say that works to their advantage.
"I say, 'Remember '99,'" Tart said.
Wake County commissioners had to raise taxes to help fund schools, and school board members said they fell behind in construction.
Opponents said the school district still needs spending reform.
"What we're doing is laying the groundwork for making things better," DeLuca said.
The groups on Monday called for Wake County to follow Johnston County's example. Last year, Johnston County was able to build an elementary school for $4 less per square foot than a school built at the same time in Wake County.
Land costs are higher in Wake County, but committees are studying whether Wake County can spend less on construction.
McLennan said Election Day will likely boil down to one factor.
"It's about turnout, and it's which side can get their voters to the polls," he said.
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