What the majority of Wake County voters wanted in 2011 when they turned out a cantankerous Republican majority on the school board and what they wanted when they sent four GOP commissioners packing last November in favor of four Democrats was clear.
They want excellent public schools, and they’re willing to pay for them.
Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill got the message, which is why he’s asking for a 14 percent boost in school funding for the 2015-16 fiscal year. Merrill’s ambition is to eventually raise average teacher pay in the county from about $49,000 to the national average of $56,000. He has other plans as well, to help schools with high populations of low-income students, for example.
Wake commissioners should answer that call with a resounding, “Yes.” Instead, Chairman James West called the proposal a “budget buster.” That’s walking away from leadership. West, a Democrat, talks about how some people are still hurting from the recession. That is certainly true, but the county’s unemployment rate is under 5 percent, and in Raleigh apartments and condominiums are going up everywhere.
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Schools are increasing enrollment by 3,000 students a year, indicating a healthy continuing growth in the county.
Now – when Wake County’s property tax rate is the lowest of the state’s urban counties, the economy is heating up and there is support for the schools – is the time to move ahead, to be bold.
And that demands leadership, not hedging and small steps.