Eastern Wake residents won’t have trouble telling their two school board candidates apart on the campaign trail.
Democratic incumbent Tom Benton and Republican challenger Don McIntyre recently laid out their separate positions on key issues such as the $810 million school construction bond on the October ballot. Both are running in District 1, which includes Wake Forest, Rolesville, Wendell, Zebulon and part of Knightdale.
Benton is one of six school board candidates who support the bonds. McIntyre is one of two candidates who oppose it.
The bond issue directs $11.5 million toward rebuilding Rolesville Elementary, $4.5 million to start renovations to East Wake Middle, and a combined $2.8 million in upgrades to six other eastern Wake schools: East Wake High, Hodge Road Elementary, Knightdale Elementary, Lockhart Elementary, Wendell Elementary and Zebulon Middle.
McIntyre, a retired attorney, says he distrusts the Democratic school board majority.
“I’m going to vote against the bond,” McIntyre said. Bonds are “absolutely necessary for new school buildings. This particular bond, we need. But I don’t trust the school board to handle that much money.”
Benton, an education consultant and retired Wake County educator, said he’s “shocked” that any school board candidate would oppose the bonds because the community continues to grow rapidly.
“In addition to the growth, there’s the needed renovations for existing schools,” Benton said.
Benton also pointed out that the bond issue passed in 2006 helped build Heritage High, Rolesville High and Rolesville Middle – additions Benton says alleviated congestion at other District 1 schools.
Rolesville High is a favorite talking point for McIntyre, who uses it as an example of what he calls school board ineptitude when talking about another hot topic in District 1: low resources at four Knightdale schools.
McIntyre noted that some of the $75 million spent on Rolesville High could have been sent to Knightdale High, East Wake Middle, Knightdale Elementary and Hodge Road Elementary – schools that lack the resources needed to effectively implement the curriculum, according to an independent audit released in August. The audit said East Wake Middle runs out of food on an “almost daily” basis.
“We don’t need marble floors. There are millions of dollars there that could have gone to Knightdale,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre noted that local education advocates had complained about a lack of resources for years, and said addressing the issue “should have been one of the first things my opponent did” in February when the school board appointed Benton to fill the unexpired term of Chris Malone, who won election to the state House.
Benton says he persistently lobbies for the equitable distribution of resources throughout the county. He said the board wanted to receive the results of the Knightdale schools audit and to wait to hire a new superintendent before it took action.
“I’ve worked hard to build a consensus plan (for addressing the issues) between the Board of Education and leaders in eastern Wake,” he said.
In fact, Benton initiated and attended a meeting last week in Raleigh with school board Chairman Keith Sutton, Superintendent Jim Merrill, who was hired in June, and mayors in the district.
“We discussed actively involving community leaders and parents in the process of improving eastern Wake schools,” Benton said.
Both candidates also disagree on the role of vouchers, charter schools, and methods for achieving economic diversity.
McIntyre supports charter schools and the program state legislators approved to provide vouchers for low-income students to pay for tuition at private schools. He also hopes to temper the need for busing by building new schools in areas that are already economically diverse.
“We save money on transportation and wear-and-tear on kids,” he said.
Benton says he “vehemently opposes” giving public school money to charters and voucher programs until the school system is “adequately funded.”
As for McIntyre’s plan for building new schools, Benton said, “This is what happens when people come in to fix the system and haven’t done their homework. They think there’s a simple fix to an extremely complex issue.”
Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.