Local News

Wake Commissioners Surprise Schools With Vote for New Bond

Posted January 27, 2007 4:53 p.m. EST
Updated January 29, 2007 8:26 p.m. EST

— Wake County Commissioners surprised the county’s school board Saturday by agreeing to pursue another big-dollar school bond this year.

This plan comes two months after voters passed a $970 million bond for schools and while school leaders and the commissioners have an unresolved dispute about money for year-round school conversions.

Crunching the numbers, Wake County commissioners said they expect to spend $4 billion on schools in the next 10 years. They plan on asking voters for half of it in the first two years.

“We're willing, and in fact, recommending that we accelerate the next bond issue so we can get ahead and provide seats for our children,” said Wake County Commissioner Joe Bryan.

Voters passed the $970 million bond in November to pay for facilities that are needed to accommodate rapid and extensive growth in the school population. An estimated 8,000 new students likely will enroll every year for several years.

This is the second surprise for Wake school officials. The first came when commissioners withheld $3.4 million the board had requested from last year's bond proceeds to convert schools to a mandatory year-round schedule.

Wake school leaders had planned to ask for another multimillion-dollar bond in a year or two, but they said they hadn’t planned to ask for more money in 2007. Wake County Schools Superintendent Del Burns and members of the school board found out about the commissioners’ plans from WRAL on Saturday.

“I really think it's crucial we meet and talk about these things instead of consistently getting surprised,” said school board member Carol Parker.

Parker said the commissioners' decision to bump up the next bond is a distraction from the ongoing debate over year-round schools.

“It diverts our attention to another issue,” she said. “What we need to concentrate on is having enough seats in 2007, in July and August when school opens.”

Commissioners must have a final vote on whether to have a bond referendum this year, and the school bond issue must still be approved by the school board. Putting the next bond issue on the ballot is far from a done deal, and getting it passed is even more uncertain.

“I think that will be a challenge -- whether we do it in 2007 or we waited a year in 2008,” Bryan said.

Bryan said the school bond issue could be coupled with three other bonds this fall, including $100 million for Wake Technical Community College, $60 million for libraries, and $50 million for parks and open space. Each issue would be listed on the ballot separately.

Another school bond package would likely come with another property tax increase. For example, the owner of a $200,000 home is now paying $94 more a year with the passing of last year's bond.