Wake school accord looks doubtful

Wake commissioners were told Monday that paying for a big boost in school funding to reduce the high school dropout rate, as proposed by the county's school board, would require a massive tax increase.

That could hamstring efforts to strike a broader agreement aimed at making peace between the county's often-feuding elected boards.

Commissioner Betty Lou Ward, a staunch backer of the school system, doubted an accord could be reached.

"It isn't going to happen with the current school board," Ward said Monday.

The Wake Education Partnership and the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce suggested earlier this year that the county government take over direct responsibility for building and maintaining school buildings. In exchange, the proposal called for the commissioners to provide the school system with the security of a multiyear budgeting plan that would ensure sizable increases in spending for education.

In June, the school board responded by sending the commissioners a detailed proposal that tied any agreement on school construction to budget increases of as much as 80 percent over the next six years. In exchange, school leaders would promise high school graduation rates of at least 95 percent.

On Monday, County Manager David Cooke told the commissioners that paying for the school board's proposed budget increases, along with the expense of building new schools and other existing county commitments, would mean raising property taxes by 35.8 cents per $100 of valuation by 2015.

That would be a 67 percent bump over the current tax rate of 53.4 cents, increasing the tax bill on a $200,000 home by $716.

Commissioners Chairman Joe Bryan said he thought the school board had good intentions but that no board of commissioners would be likely to impose such large tax increases.

"I don't think, in this economic climate, that the community is ready to contemplate that level of increase," Bryan said.

Some on the county board objected Monday that issues regarding school construction should be tied to the promise of greatly increased expenditures for educational instruction.

"It's like they're saying, 'If we're going to give something up, then you have to pay us for it,' " Commissioner Paul Coble said. "I reject the premise."