The state of the Wake County schools might best be captured in a single word: challenges. In his recent annual address, Superintendent Tony Tata was frank, cautious and optimistic.
It seemed to be a realistic and forceful appraisal of the schools situation. Thats the kind of straightforward talk Wake citizens have come to expect from the superintendent, who was hired by a board dominated by Republicans with a vow to change the pupil assignment system and who now reports to a Democratic majority which may ultimately return assignments to a system in which economic diversity is part of the equation.
But Tata is staying the course. Among his points in his state of the schools address at Southeast Raleigh High School were that a new, more demanding curriculum, called the Common Core, may for a while result in lower test scores. The long-term hope is that students will work to do better and make their diplomas mean more, along with being better prepared for a little something called life that comes after high school.
Tata noted the system has made strides in scores on proficiency tests. But he was adamant that Wake is a long way from being able to feel complacent about anything. (The bus troubles that dogged the opening of classes were another reminder of that.) As enrollment swells theres a clear need for more classroom space, meaning more schools, and more schools mean that a bond issue must be put to the voters next year, in the superintendents opinion.
Wake commissioners, edgy about a property tax increase, lean in some cases toward separate bond issues of $300 million or $400 million, while school board majority members are looking at a billion dollars or more. One, Jim Martin, thinks there should be a bond vote on perhaps $2 billion, which would enable the county to really take care of some long-range needs.
Time and again, and lets hope commissioners remember this, the people of Wake County have said they are willing to pay for the gift of good schools. If, as Tata says, school advocates can go forth and make the case, those good citizens will again vote for high-quality public education.