CARY — Wake County school administrators laid out scenarios Wednesday for a school construction bond, even as some school board members are still uncertain whether it’s too soon to ask for voter approval this fall.
The options presented range from $609 million to as much as $2.3 billion for new schools and renovation projects to keep up with a projected addition of 3,000 new students a year to the state’s largest school district.
School board members and members of the Wake County Board of Commissioners are supposed to work through different proposals, or scenarios, to come up with the amount of a construction bond that will be put on the ballot. While commissioners are pushing for a fall bond referendum, some school board members are still considering whether delaying the vote until next spring might make more sense.
“The basic thing is we can’t afford to see a bond fail,” said school board member Susan Evans after Wednesday’s facilities committee meeting. “I sure hope that we can build the support by this fall if that’s the decision.”
Several board members have questioned whether the public would back a bond issue this fall, especially amid the controversy over a bill in the state Senate that would transfer control of school construction and maintenance to the county commissioners.
School board Chairman Keith Sutton said they’ll have a better idea about the timing for a referendum after the bond scenarios are discussed at next week’s joint meeting of the boards.
“We are hopeful that we can have a successful referendum in the fall,” he said.
It’s ultimately up to the commissioners to put a bond issue on the ballot. But they first need a formal request from the school board. Both sides would have to agree on a bond amount by the end of June to meet a timeline for an Oct. 8 bond vote.
Joe Bryan, chairman of the commissioners, said Wednesday that the $609 million option probably doesn’t provide enough money to meet the school district’s construction needs. He said the scenarios of $854 million and $1.1 billion are good places to begin the discussion.
“We all see the challenges,” Bryan said. “We know the school district has needs.”
But Bryan said that the $2.3 billion option will never fly.
School administrators also agreed that they can’t ask for $2.3 billion since they couldn’t build all the projects that would be funded by that amount during the next five years. But Joe Desormeaux, the school district’s assistant superintendent for facilities, said the $2.3 billion scenario clearly lays out the extent of the school district’s needs.
All of the scenarios presented Wednesday would require a property tax increase.
County staff have said that a $600 million bond issue would raise property taxes by 3.09 cents, or $77.25 a year on a $250,000 home.
School board members made clear Wednesday that they want to make sure that a $4.4 million renovation to the athletic facilities at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh is funded after being told that the project wasn’t in the smaller scenarios.
“That poor school has been nickeled and dimed for so many years,” said school board member Jim Martin.