In a sign that relations may be improving, the leaders of Wake County’s Board of Commissioners and school board will meet next week to jumpstart the process for getting a school construction bond on the ballot in fall 2013.
The leaders of both elected boards, along with acting Superintendent Stephen Gainey and County Manager David Cooke, will meet Dec. 21 to schedule a series of meetings of both bodies to develop the next construction program. Paul Coble, former chairman of the Board of Commissioners, cancelled joint meetings that were to have begun in October in response to the school board’s firing of Superintendent Tony Tata.
“Hopefully everybody will see the need for a school bond issue,” Joe Bryan, the new chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said Monday. “There will certainly be frank discussions.”
Both Bryan and new school board Chairman Keith Sutton were elected to lead their respective boards last week.
The last school construction bond issue, for a county record amount of $970 million, was approved by voters in 2006. As the recession slowed growth, plans for a follow-up bond have been delayed.
But with Wake schools at nearly 150,000 students and growing by about 3,000 students a year, school leaders say they need more funding to build new schools to keep up with growth. School and county leaders had been looking at a bond amount ranging from $300 million to $1 billion being put before voters in 2013.
Commissioners have the final say on putting a bond measure on the ballot, so both boards historically meet to work out details such as the dollar amount of the building program. The first joint meeting had been scheduled for Oct. 12.
Within days of Tata’s firing, Coble sent a letter dated Sept. 29 to then-school board Chairman Kevin Hill saying the joint meetings were off. Coble, as recently as the Nov. 19 state of the county address, said the school board should complete such tasks as hiring a new superintendent and completing a student assignment plan before talking about a bond issue.
After their elections last week, Bryan and Sutton both talked about the importance of improving relations between the two boards to get a school bond on the 2013 ballot. Bryan said he contacted Sutton last week to set up the initial meeting.
Bryan said they’ll try to agree Dec. 21 on the dates of four meetings of both boards to be held in early 2013. He said he also wants to give time for the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, the group which historically leads efforts to urge public support of bond issues, to get mobilized.
“We know there will be challenges,” Bryan said.