Johnston County’s student population is growing, and school leaders want voters to support borrowing for new and renovated buildings.
On the ballot this fall are two bond referendums: one for $57 million for Johnston County Schools and another on $7 million for Johnston Community College.
School and community college leaders say the money will go to much-needed facilities. County leaders say the borrowing won’t raise property taxes.
The county’s public schools typically fund new buildings with bond dollars, and if voters say yes on Nov. 5, the county will sell the $57 million in bonds over the next three years, said Rick Hester, county manager.
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“We set them up that way so we can layer in the debt more gradually and be able to handle it within the budget that we have,” he said. That means no property-tax increase.
In Johnston County, bond referendums typically enjoy overwhelming support, with some 70 percent of voters in the past voting yes, Hester said.
Johnston County Schools
The county’s public schools would use the $57 million to build two new schools, finish an existing campus and renovate high schools.
Superintendent Ed Croom said about 700 new students come to Johnston County each year. “That’s basically a school a year,” he said.
The school system deploys more than 140 mobile classrooms to house its growing student population, and the bond issue would keep that number from increasing.
Croom said the county has just three ways to pay for new school construction and renovations: cash, which isn’t available in such a large amount; short-term borrowing, which the county would have to pay back too quickly; and long-term borrowing, such as a bond issue.
“The growth in our public schools will continue,” Croom said. “As long as we can float bonds without a tax increase, that is the most feasible way to build new schools.”
To decide where to build new schools and expand existing campuses, the school works with a group at N.C. State University called the Operations Research and Education Laboratory, Croom said. The group projects enrollment by looking at a variety of factors such as population growth and jobs and has been consistently accurate, Croom said. For the school system’s latest building plan, the group identified areas with the most growth and overcrowding, which the bond plan targets.
The bond issue would build two schools – a new North Johnston Middle School and a middle school between the Cleveland and McGee’s Crossroads communities. The current North Middle campus would become an elementary school, easing crowding at Micro-Pine Level and Glendale-Kenly elementary schools. Also, bond funds would expand River Dell Elementary to accommodate 886 students.
High schools would see renovations to their heating and cooling systems; $3 million would support wireless Internet throughout the schools and fund computer labs.
OREd also identified projects for a second round of borrowing: two new elementary schools and expansion of an existing elementary school and middle school. Croom said the school system plans to ask for another bond referendum in 2016-17.
Last week, Wake County voters said yes to an $810 million bond issue despite organized opposition and the promise of a property-tax increase. Croom said he hasn’t heard of any opposition in Johnston County. “That’s a good, though, because they are so far behind they’re having to raise taxes to build schools,” he said of Wake County.
“We want the best climate possible for our children to receive an education,” Croom added. “If we want to continue to accommodate the growth in this district, then we need to support the bond.”
Johnston Community College is asking voters to support a $7 million bond referendum.
The money would allow the college to renovate and upgrade buildings while also doing some long-term planning, said President David Johnson.
About $500,000 would pay architects to update the college’s master building plan, which is five years old and out of date, Johnson said. The college would use the remaining $6.5 million on projects identified by that updated plan.
“We haven’t had shovel-ready plans in place in order just to say, ‘Here’s what we need; here’s what it’s going to cost us,’” Johnson said. “We think we know what we need, and that’s based on an old plan.” Thanks to enrollment growth, those needs are changing, he said.
JCC has identified about $2 million in renovations needed immediately, Johnson said. Those needs include leaking roofs, cracks in buildings and crumbling parking lots.
The college is looking at a number of projects, including a virtual hospital for its health programs and a student activities building. “We have our own set of estimates for projects ahead totaling well over $80 million,” Johnson said.
Johnson said Johnston County is going to grow 48 percent by 2032, according to some predictions. “If we don’t plan for that growth now, we will never, ever be able to afford it when we experience it,” he said. “So now is the time.”