Education

Wake County bond would renovate – or replace – 11 schools. Is it worth $279 million?

Fuquay-Varina High School principal Jonathan Enns watches as students leave at the end of the school day on Oct. 9. 2018. Enns says a $111.8 million renovation planned for the school will help address issues such as how the many different buildings on campus pose security and circulation issues.
Fuquay-Varina High School principal Jonathan Enns watches as students leave at the end of the school day on Oct. 9. 2018. Enns says a $111.8 million renovation planned for the school will help address issues such as how the many different buildings on campus pose security and circulation issues. khui@newsobserver.com

The fate of a plan to borrow more than a half-billion dollars to pay for Wake County school construction projects could depend on how willing voters are to support spending money to fix and rebuild aging school buildings.

Wake County voters will decide this fall on a $548 million school construction bond referendum that will provide money over the next two years to help build seven new schools, renovate 11 existing schools and fund other projects. The majority of the bond money would go toward renovations, which in some cases would mean demolishing existing buildings and building a brand new school on the site.

Bond supporters say the renovations will provide better learning environments for students and help to recruit and retain the best teachers.

“The facilities at these older schools in Raleigh are not the same as the newer schools or the recently renovated schools,” said George York, co-chairman of the Friends of Wake County, the business-backed group formed to promote passage of the school bond.

“It’s not about really where the schools are in Wake County but are all the kids in Wake County getting an equal opportunity to learn,” York said in a phone interview.

But bond opponents contend on their website that Wake’s plan is wasting money by “bulldozing perfectly good schools just to rebuild them.”

“We also don’t believe in tearing down school buildings just to build a newer one on the same property is an effective use of our tax money,” Robb Ward, chairman of AgainstTheBonds.com, said in a statement. The group is backed by those who oppose raising property taxes like the Wake County Taxpayers Association.

The Wake school bond is one of three bond items on the Nov. 6 ballot in Wake County. Voters will also decide on a $349 million bond referendum to expand and renovate Wake Technical Community College’s facilities and a $120 million parks, greenways, recreation and open space bond referendum.

If all three ballot measures to borrow $1.1 billion are approved, it would result in a 3.8-cent increase to the county property tax rate. The Wake County school tax portion would be a 2.3-cent increase, or $62 more per year for the average Wake County home assessed at $270,000.

Bond supporters say that passing the referendum is the cheapest way to pay for Wake’s capital needs. Opponents say enough is enough after multiple years of property tax rate increases, largely to allow for increases in school funding.

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