Crunch time for Wake school bond referendum

July 17, 2013 

At last, let’s hope, Wake County commissioners and school board members have found something they can agree on, the school bond referendum now set for Oct. 8. If voters authorize bonds, some $810 million can be borrowed to build new schools and renovate others. With 20,000 more students expected by 2018 in a system that already is the state’s largest, the need is vital.

There is simply no question about this one, and a citizens’ committee is going to have to make that clear to voters and campaign to get them behind it. Any such campaign will have to reach beyond the business community. It must sell average residents, homeowners, parents and nonparents, newcomers and lifelong Wake County citizens on the need for new schools and the benefit of them.

That’s going to be important, because the contentious relationship between Republican commissioners, who control their board, and Democratic school board members who are in the majority has been a long and painful thing to watch. Commissioners, perhaps confident with control and figuring with Republicans in charge of the legislature they had a window of jurisdictional opportunity, moved to get legislative approval to own, build and maintain schools. That authority has rested, properly, with the school board, which has done a good job.

But that move, along with the preposterous push for the school district lines to be redrawn in a way that would favor Republicans, created a bitter divide. Commissioners are waiting to see if they’ll get what they want from the General Assembly on the ownership question.

All together

The very public battle over these issues has at times overshadowed the need for new school construction and maintenance, and that’s troubling. If the public perceives a never-ending series of confrontations between the two boards, its confidence in the proposed bond issue may be shaken. And a defeat in the referendum would be nothing short of catastrophic for the Wake County schools.

Therefore, it’s important that commissioners, all of them and especially the Republicans with high profiles such as former Raleigh Mayor Paul Coble, be in the front of the effort to get the bonds approved. Chairman Joe Bryan has sounded his full backing for the bonds, and his fellow commissioners must be equally enthusiastic.

There has been no bond referendum since 2006. For their money, Wake citizens would get 11 new elementary schools, three new middle schools, two new high schools, six big renovations, land for future schools and upgrades for technology and security. The new schools, obviously, would be placed in high-growth areas, and with the improving economy (home sales are way up in Wake) those facilities will be sorely needed.

Really a bargain

If the bond issue is approved, the owner of the county’s average-assessed-value home, at $263,500, would pay $145 a year more in property taxes. That’s less than $3 a week more.

What’s the result if the unthinkable happens and the bond issue is rejected? Given the way in which Republicans in the General Assembly have shortchanged public education in general, Wake would wind up with horribly crowded classrooms, long commutes for new students, and would fall further and further behind as school populations increased with no possibility of relief.

But school children and their families wouldn’t be the only ones affected. Absent the needed space for schools, Wake County’s growth would begin to slow. New business, and the new residents it brings, aren’t going to come to a place where employees’ children can’t get a good public education, particularly when one of the main factors in drawing that business has been the reputation of the schools.

In short, we’re all in this together, whether we have children or not, whether we are property owners or not, whether we are Republicans or Democrats. This bond issue must pass. That will help this community and everyone in it. A failure would do just the opposite.

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