Wake school board may delay bond vote until fall 2013

Wake schools leaders say they want to win public trust back

khui@newsobserver.comOctober 10, 2012 

— Several Wake County school board members are voicing support for delaying the next school construction bond referendum until fall 2013 to allow turmoil stirred by a key resignation and Superintendent Tony Tata’s firing to subside.

School administrators have been working on a timetable to try to get a bond issue on the ballot in May to speed up when money could be received for building and renovating schools. But in the past month, Don Haydon, who was in charge of the school staff that developed construction programs, resigned and Tata was fired by the board’s Democratic majority

Now board members are talking about a bond vote in October or November 2013 2013 as being a more realistic date.

“There’s been a lot that’s gone poorly in the last few months,” said school board member Susan Evans after Wednesday’s meeting of the board’s facilities committee. “The extra time will help us re-earn the public’s trust.”

School board member Jim Martin said that a May referendum was an “optimistic” time frame if everything had worked in getting the planning done on what would be funded by the bonds.

“Now a fall referendum would be a realistic target,” he said.

Considering the “public anger” over Tata’s firing, board member Chris Malone said that delaying the referendum would be a wise move. Unlike Martin and Evans, Malone voted against firing Tata. Democrats accused Tata of issues such as poor board and staff relations, while his supporters pointed to areas such as gains in test scores.

The school system has been working on a bond issue to help pay for new schools needed to keep up with thousands of new students enrolling in the state’s largest district each year. Wake, with 149,508 students, grew by more than 2,800 students this year.

Work on the bond issue hit a snag when Haydon, the chief facilities and operations officer, resigned Sept. 17. Haydon also oversaw the bus fleet.

School board chairman Kevin Hill has accused Tata of making Haydon a scapegoat for the bus problems that marred the start of the school year. He called Haydon’s departure the final straw.

Tata’s firing has produced a backlash among the Republican majority on the Wake County Board of Commissioners. The school board needs the permission of the commissioners for the size of the bond issue and for it to be put on the ballot.

In a letter released last week, Commission Chairman Paul Coble condemned the Democratic school board leadership and canceled meetings planned between the two boards to discuss the next school bond referendum. Coble said the panels won’t meet until the school board first commits to specific projects and a completed school assignment plan.

The first joint meeting was scheduled for Friday.

Hill said in an interview last week that a fall 2013 bond vote allows the school board to show it’s being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Hill also said that in discussions between the leadership of the school board and commissioners, they’ve talked about going with a series of $400 million to $600 million bonds, which would also allow the public to see the money is being spent wisely.

“There’s no thought of going with a $1 billion to $2 billion bond,” he said.

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