Sides trade barbs on Wake school bonds' effect

ccampbell@newsobserver.com khui@newsobserver.comOctober 7, 2013 

Garner High School

Students move toward their next classes at Garner Magnet High School Sept. 18 in Garner. Principal Drew Cook calls the intersection between the buildings like Interstate 40, I-95 and U.S. 70 converging.

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

The always heated issue of student assignment was injected into the fight over the $810 million Wake County school construction bond issue Monday, the day before the issue goes to the polls.

Opponents of the bonds charged Monday that voter approval would allow the school board to put in place “an egregious assignment plan” that would fill new schools with students bused for diversity, instead of attending neighborhood schools. Bond supporters, with school board chairman Keith Sutton as spokesman, accused the other side of injecting “racial fears and racial mistrust” by bringing assignment into the issue so close to the vote.

The heated rhetoric over the school-bonds item came on the eve of a major day of voting for residents in Wake and Durham counties.

In addition to bonds for Wake schools, there’s also a ballot item on $75 million in City of Raleigh transportation upgrades. Voters also may make choices on Wake County school board elections, municipal elections in Raleigh and Cary, and municipal primaries in Durham.

Y’all come: All 645,491 voters in Wake County are eligible to vote Tuesday. Wake Board of Elections Director Cherie Poucher said Monday that 5,149 people voted early.

“It’s a little bit lower than 2011, but pretty much in line for municipal elections,” said Poucher, who is anticipating a turnout of about 20 percent, barring heavy rain.

A point to remember: Whatever happens with the state’s new voter ID law and the challenge to it, voters are still on the honor system this year – no identification is required to vote. Polls are open from 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. To find your polling place, visit www.ncsbe.gov.

To build or not to build: Wake County voters can give thumbs up or down to a proposed $810 million bond issue to fund building new schools, renovating existing facilities and upgrading technology for the system’s more than 150,000 students. Proponents say the funds are necessary to keep schools shipshape for the upcoming years of projected growth. Opponents say the plan is too costly, too much of a burden on taxpayers and likely not needed, given some unused space in existing schools.

Who’s in charge here: Four of the nine Wake County school board seats are on the ballot, but Tuesday’s election results won’t change the party balance on the officially nonpartisan board.

Democratic-backed board members hold the other five seats that are not on the ballot. Even if Republican-backed candidates win all four seats Tuesday, it would leave the GOP with a 5-4 minority.

School board member Tom Benton will compete against Don McIntyre in eastern Wake’s District 1. Monika Johnson-Hostler and Matt Scruggs are running in southern Wake’s District 2. Board member Deborah Prickett is running against Zora Felton in northwest Wake’s District 7. Board member Bill Fletcher is facing Nancy Caggia in Cary’s District 9.

Wider roads, bus stops & more: Raleigh residents will also decide on a $75 million transportation bond Tuesday, a measure that would fund improvements to the city’s busiest roads.

If the bond issue passes, city taxpayers will see their property taxes increase next year by 1.12 cents per $100 valuation, about $33 more a year in taxes for a house valued at $300,000. The bond package includes widening on roads like Buck Jones, Sandy Forks and New Hope Church, as well as bus stop improvements, new roundabouts, and miles of new sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

Turnover not likely: All seven seats on the Raleigh City Council, as well as the mayor’s chair, are up for grabs in Tuesday’s election – but don’t expect much turnover.

Incumbents are the frontrunners for all but one council seat, raising more money than their opponents and attracting more attention.

But in this corner: North Raleigh’s District A race is considered a toss-up after months of heated campaigning and criticism between incumbent Randy Stagner and opponent Wayne Maiorano.

Maiorano has attacked Stagner’s leadership on a variety of issues ranging from the firing of longtime City Manager Russell Allen to the scandal at the Raleigh Business and Technology Center. Stagner has fired back, claiming that Maiorano is a “developer’s lawyer” and questioning the newcomer’s motives.

Mayoral and other contests: Challengers are on the ballot in the other Raleigh council races, with the exception of District E, where incumbent Bonner Gaylord is unopposed for re-election. Voters will pick their district council member, two at-large representatives and the city’s mayor. Incumbent Mayor Nancy McFarlane faces two long-shot challengers, Republicans Robert Weltzin and Venita Peyton.

In Cary, two seats contested: Incumbent city council members Jennifer Robinson, facing Karl Thor in District A; and Jack Smith, opposed by Deborah Pugh in District C; have raised more money than their challengers. But all candidates combined reported raising less than $10,000 by the end of last month, compared to more than $250,000 on the line in the Wake school-bonds fight.

Winnowing in Durham: Voters in the Bull City will be voting to eliminate one of three candidates for mayor and two from the four candidates for Ward 2 on the city council. Incumbent Mayor Bill Bell is running for his seventh consecutive term.

Staff writers Paul Specht, Jim Wise and Thomas Goldsmith contributed.

Campbell: 919-829-4802

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