Wake County can’t afford a delay
As a mother of two students in the Wake County public schools and as a Wake County commissioner, I want to encourage voters to support the school bond issue. An expected 20,000 new students will be arriving by 2018. To put that number in context, the Pitt County public schools have 23,300 students in their entire system. We must build more schools to accommodate this growth.
Classrooms are already crowded. At my children’s middle school, the average class size is 32 students. We cannot simply add kids to classes or put out more mobile units. We already have 17 percent of our students in mobile units, which must still be supported by facilities like bathrooms and cafeterias in the main buildings.
In addition to adding 16 schools, the bond issue will provide for much-needed major renovations to six schools and repairs to more than half of the system’s schools. Aging schools face higher repair and maintenance needs and also require upgrades to accommodate new technology and security systems. Last year, the Miami-Dade School System passed a $1.2 billion school bond issue devoted entirely to renovations. Over the past 25 years, the system used its money to build schools and did not address renovations or repairs, requiring a very expensive fix. In Wake County, we have had the foresight to couple major renovations with our building program.
Bond opponents have taken issue with rooms used for special education and the arts. Thirteen percent of all WCPSS students have a recognized disability and Individual Education Plans. Those who need more support are in contained classrooms (334 rooms), and those who need less go to resource rooms in elementary school and have classes of curriculum assistance in middle and high schools (834 rooms). Children with disabilities are covered under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act, and their class sizes are mandated by the Department of Public Instruction.
Our schools have rooms for art and music education. Although some have advocated using these rooms to add capacity, arts education is an important part of the curriculum, and there are a plethora of studies to back this up. Economists tell us that the so-called “creative class” will be instrumental to our economic success.
We cannot afford to delay this bond issue. It takes 22 months to build an elementary school and even longer to build middle and high schools. Our county is legally obligated to provide a seat for every student. General obligation bonds carry the lowest interest rate, and due to our county’s excellent financial management, we are one of only 38 counties in the country to carry AAA ratings from all three ratings agencies. This allows us to borrow at the lowest rate possible with the best value to the taxpayer.
Let us not forget who is in these seats. They are our children, not commodities that simply occupy space in a warehouse for 13 years.
The writer, a Democrat, is a Wake County commissioner. The length limit was waived to permit a fuller discussion of the issue.