Garner Cleveland Record

Much on the line Tuesday for Wake Schools, especially in Garner

School bond campaign signs compete for drivers’ attention on U.S. 70 in Garner. Garner voters will decide between school board candidates and whether to authorize Wake County Schools to borrow $810 million for capital improvements.
School bond campaign signs compete for drivers’ attention on U.S. 70 in Garner. Garner voters will decide between school board candidates and whether to authorize Wake County Schools to borrow $810 million for capital improvements.

On Tuesday voters will decide their next school board representative as well as whether to pass a huge school bond that would allow massive capital investments in Garner schools.

Monika Johnson-Hostler and Matt Scruggs will vie for the District 2 seat held by John Tedesco, who opted not to seek reelection. At the same time, voters will decide whether to authorize Wake County public schools to borrow $810 million to fund roughly $940 million in upgrades; more than $180 million will upgrade schools in Garner.

Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.; residents should go to their regular polling location. That location can be found on the Wake County elections website, Though the issues have large, direct implications for places like Garner, elections without federal races typically receive lower turnout.

“Traditionally we do not have high turnout in odd-number years. And based on what we are seeing in early voting and absentee requests, it seems we’re following normal trends,” said Gary Sims, deputy director of Wake County Board of Elections. “The regular voters are coming out and voting.”

Sims said that while long lines were unlikely, some sites can still see small bumps in activity from the opening bell until about 8 a.m., during lunch hours and after 5 p.m.

Issues on the ballot

Johnson-Hostler and all but two candidates in this term’s four board races have joined the entire current school board in advocating for the bond. They argue it is long overdue and necessary for languishing school infrastructure.

“People aren’t just invested in their child, they’re invested in our school system,” Johnson-Hostler said. “If this doesn’t pass, this isn’t just today or these schools, this is pushing back even further the schools that aren’t in this bond. That’s a real concern for me.”

One of the two candidates opposing the bond is Scruggs, who maintains that it is too much money to borrow and that the spending would be wasteful and unnecessary.

Scruggs declined requests to speak with him for this story, citing a busy campaign schedule.

The bond would provide $67.1 million to essentially rebuild Garner High School, as well as build new high and elementary schools in south Garner. Vandora Springs Elementary would also see a major facelift.

Garner High, with a large share of its 2,436 students attending classes in temporary trailers, has become a focal point for bond supporters. The school will open a new freshman center in a movie theater across the street and more temporary buildings set up in its parking lot in January to alleviate the crowding.

Johnson-Hostler said facilities have been a key point for Garnerites she’s met. (More than half the schools in District 2 are in Garner; the rest are in Fuquay-Varina, Southeast Raleigh and Knightdale.) She said that even outside Garner, the media reports on the school had impacted their thinking.

“They had no idea that that many kids were packed into that school,” said Johnson-Hostler, whose husband is a teacher in WCPSS and whose daughter is in third grade.

Scruggs agreed with Johnson-Hostler on several points at a debate at a Fuquay-Varina candidate forum before missing one in Garner. Raised with two teachers as parents, he advocates support to the profession and opposes over-reliance on testing in evaluation, though he likes the idea of merit pay.

But Scruggs differentiates himself as he promotes neighborhood schools and opposes the bond and busing for diversity. He said all schools should be good schools. He also opposes Common Core, a newly-implemented initiative of the National Governors Association to set standards designed by business and education leaders, calling it needless federal meddling in education.

While Johnson-Hostler said while most people she’s met support, some question it and a few have ardently opposed the bond, Scruggs said it’s vehemently opposed by the people he’s met. He said that while schools like Garner need upgrades, $810 million was too much to borrow and an onerous tax burden. (The proposed 5.53-cent increase would add $82.95 to the annual tax of a home valued at $150,000.) He said cost-saving measures and smart reassignment could dramatically save costs.

Scruggs has not put forth a tangible plan with math to support it. And school officials remain skeptical of the scale of what could be saved by mere budget-trimming.

“It’s interesting to hear the suggestions we hear. They’re good ideas but they’re things we’re already doing,” WCPSS assistant superintendent Joe Desormeaux said. “We’re barely building enough seats to match the growth; we’re still going to need the mobiles.”

Campaign Support

As of reports filed at the end of September, Johnston-Hostler has out-raised Scruggs $18,225 to $7,660; each had at least a third of that cash still on hand. She has secured support from various progressive groups as well as Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams. Scruggs has an endorsement from Wake County Republicans.

The Garner Town Council passed a resolution in support of the school bond. Most education groups support the bond; Wake County Taxpayers has launched a visible campaign against it.