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Citizens Groups Get Ready For Battle Over Wake Bond Proposals

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Passing a billion-dollar school bond proposal is an uphill battle, especially when 70 percent of Wake County voters don't have children in public schools. The marketing strategies began to take shape Wednesday with the formation of a committee to sell the bond.

Building new schools isn't cheap, especially for a school system that could grow by 40,000 more students in the next five years.

"This is the fastest growing county in North Carolina," said WakeMed president Dr. Bill Atkinson.

That's why Atkinson and Ann Goodnight, the wife of SAS CEO Jim Goodnight, will co-chair "Friends of Wake County" a committee formed through the Wake County Board of Education and county commissioners to market the $1 billion bond proposal. Money comes from private donors.

"This is a progressive community and it needs to continue to be that way," said Atkinson. "This is a smart investment."

"I think we will gain momentum and it will build from now to November," said Goodnight.

And the co-chairs will have help on the street. Neighborhood groups that favor a higher bond to limit mandatory year-round schools believe they can get voters to say "Yes." Hope Carmichael's grassroots parent group went from zero to 300 members in a matter of weeks.

"I have certainly learned that in the last three weeks you can turn a lot of heads," said Carmichael.

But there are lots of head to turn. Several polls show voters oppose the tax increase. Groups like the Wake County Taxpayers Association, which opposed bonds in the past, plan to oppose again.

"This is all a matter of amount," said John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation. "No one is doubting that we need to build schools. It's simply a question of how many schools how large and how much they should cost."

The one guarantee is that voters will get an earful from both sides from now to November. A private committee markets the bond because the school system isn't legally allowed to lobby. If the bond fails, county leaders say most schools would convert to mandatory year-round, construction projects would fall behind, and taxes could go up anyway.

The Wake school construction package is set for just more than $1 billion. Much of it would be paid for with bonds if voters approve them. For the owner of a $150,000 home, that would mean an increase of $65 to $95 a year in property taxes.


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