The Wake County Republican Party’s executive committee made news recently by opposing – by a one-vote margin – the upcoming $810 million school bond referendum. Because the headlines remain after the story fades, it might appear that all Republicans and conservatives oppose the bond issue. That is simply not true.
We represent a group of Republicans who support the referendum. That is because it is a fiscally conservative plan presented with the most cost-effective way to pay for it.
You will hear a lot of the same arguments that have been used in the past. We do not agree with them.
One argument is that we do not need this space, that we can use band, art and special education rooms instead of building new classrooms. We are expecting 20,000 new students in public school by 2018; it is unrealistic to think that we could fit them into rooms that already contain students. As a district, the Wake school system is at 103.2 percent of long-range capacity, and 16.9 percent of students and teachers operate out of modular classrooms.
Opponents will argue that we should simply shift students around, but reassigning students by the thousands from one area of the county to another has proved a less-than-popular solution with parents, as is mandatory year-round schooling. It is not a solid long-term solution.
Another point argued is that we need less space because more students will attend private or charter schools, or receive home schooling. While charter and private schools are an important part of the education picture in Wake County, they serve only a small portion of the population, with just four of 100 students attending charter schools.
The NC Division of Non-Public Education reports that in 2012-13, 16,048 students were in private school and 8,507 were home schooled. These are small numbers compared with the current enrollment of nearly 150,000 students. The Wake County Public School System takes these statistics into account when developing enrollment projections for public school building needs.
Our needs are great, and the time to build is now. Since the last school bond vote in 2006, Wake County has added 170,000 residents. Our county grows by an average of 64 people a day, between births and families moving here. We expect to surpass the 1 million population mark in just two years.
This bond issue requires a tax increase of about $12 per month for the average Wake County home valued at $263,500. We do not like tax increases any more than you and probably like them even less. But Wake County has not increased taxes since fiscal 2008-09, and this is a necessary investment in our future. By building new schools and upgrading and repairing the ones we already have, we are keeping our county economically vital.
Now is the time to do this, as interest rates are at historic lows. As one of only 39 counties in the country with a AAA bond rating, Wake County can obtain the lowest interest rates for long-term capital projects like new schools.
We have the reputation for disliking debt. However, because the school building program is part of Wake County’s long-range infrastructure plans, the county is confident it can take on this additional commitment without jeopardizing its standing among the nation’s top credit rating agencies.
We believe this is a sound plan and a prudent approach that will help us manage growth as we emerge from difficult economic times. Despite their differences, the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education are united behind this plan, with the commissioners responsible for managing the bond proceeds. Based on their management of the 2006 bond, we are satisfied that both groups will be accountable for managing the public’s money with respect and care, and we fully intend to hold them to that.
Ultimately, this bond issue will be a pocketbook decision for voters. The commissioners by law must provide a seat to every student who arrives at the public school system’s doorstep and are offering voter-approved bonds as the smartest and most economical way to pay for new schools and renovations and repairs to existing schools. For comparison’s sake, if this same program were financed using other methods, it could cost another $25 million in higher interest rates.
This bond issue will allow us to face our responsibility of ensuring that our students and teachers have safe, adequate facilities and technologically advanced learning environments to help them excel in a world of global competition.
John Kane is chairman and CEO of Kane Realty Corp. John Odom, a small-business owner, is a Raleigh City Council member. Jim Beck, Joe Bryan, Patty Briguglio, Jim Captain, Bob Hatley, Trish and John Healy, Gary Joyner, Phil Kirk, Phil Matthews, Wayne Maiorano, Gary Pendleton, Billie Redmond, Steve Stroud and George York also endorsed this viewpoint.