Why Wake County voters won't see a $1 billion school construction bond referendum this fall

Wake County leaders are hoping taxpayers will be more willing to support borrowing money for school construction projects if they don't ask them for more than $1 billion at a time.

The Wake County school board voted Tuesday to ask county commissioners to provide $2.4 billion over the next seven years to fully fund 15 new schools and 10 major renovations and to partially pay for other projects.

Although a school construction bond referendum is expected to be placed on the November ballot, school leaders say commissioners want to keep it below $1 billion.

To keep the amount down this fall, school board members say the county wants to go with smaller bond votes in 2018, 2020 and 2022 instead of larger ones this year and in 2022. Each refererenda would cover two years worth of projects to lessen how much money is requested at any given time.

School board members said they'll leave it up to the county to decide which bond option is best to use.

"Our job is to state the need and their job is to figure out how to fund it," said school board chairwoman Monika Johnson-Hostler.

The school board and Wake County commissioners are expected to discuss the school building program at a joint meeting next week. The meeting agenda will also include County Manager David Ellis' recommended $30 million school funding increase, far below the $58.9 million bump requested by the school board for the coming year.

Under state law, counties have the primary responsibility for funding school construction.

The last school construction bond referendum approved by Wake County voters was for $810 million in 2013.. A record $970 million school construction bond referendum was approved by Wake voters in 2006.

School leaders say more school construction money is needed to accommodate 17,639 new students expected to arrive by 2025, deal with state-mandated K-3 class size reductions and fix aging schools.

This fall's school bond referendum could require a property tax increase of between 2.35 cents and 2.5 cents, or between $70 and $75 more per year on a $300,000 home.

School board members agreed Tuesday to a new project schedule that would speed up by one year to 2022 completion of major renovations at West Millbrook Middle School in Raleigh. Parents and students had publicly complained about problems such as sewage periodically backing up in school hallways and a strong urine odor in one building.

But speeding up the West Millbrook renovations means the district is delaying the opening of two new small high schools to 2025, including one planned for the site of the former Bobby Murray Chevrolet dealership on Capital Boulevard in Raleigh.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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