Wake commissioner candidates debate school funding, transit

Four commissioner hopefuls appear Thursday in a forum at the Garner Arts Center

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.comSeptember 20, 2012 

  • Remaining forums: Sept. 27: Martin Street Baptist Church, 1001 E. Martin St., Raleigh. Oct. 4: Kirk of Kildaire Church, 200 High Meadow Drive, Cary. Oct. 11: Temple Beth Or, 5315 Creedmoor Road, Raleigh.

— Wake County schools won’t be able to keep up with the flood of families moving into the area without a school bond and some form of tax increase, Wake County Commissioner James West said Thursday.

West was the only unopposed candidate among four speakers appearing at a forum at the Garner Arts Center. He was also the only one to directly address questions about raising taxes.

Completing the cast of candidates were Betty Lou Ward, the Democratic incumbent in District 6; her Republican opponent, mortgage lender Paul Fitts; and Caroline Sullivan, a Democrat running in District 4. Sullivan’s Republican opponent, Holly Springs tech executive Dale Cooke, had another engagement, organizers said.

“If we don’t give the children the capacity they need, it’s going to cause irreparable harm to the system,” said Sullivan, a community volunteer and former Democratic fundraiser whose children attend Wake schools.

“I truly do believe that we are going to need a school bond, and we are probably going to need it next year,” Ward said.

West noted that members of the seven-member board of commissioners will meet monthly with the nine-member board of education to discuss the need for more seats for students and the prospects for a bond issue next year.

Fitts said he would not oppose a bond issue but urged “thinking outside the box” to fund school construction, such as giving consideration to the possible sale of school system properties.

A proposed mass transit plan also attracted a range of responses, with Democrats Ward, West and Sullivan mostly in favor. Without a system, Sullivan said, the county could miss out on valuable economic opportunities.

“Eventually this is going to cost us jobs and recruitment,” she said.

Not so, countered Fitts, the lone GOP representative. Wake County is attractive, in part, because it doesn’t have some of the features of a big-city transit system, he said.

“They leave cities that have the subways, and that have the rail system,” Fitts said of newcomers.

The event, focused on quality of life issues, was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Wake County, the nonprofit WakeUP Wake County and sorority Delta Sigma Theta. Only about 25 people attended, but three more forums in the series await candidates and voters.

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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