Just think about it: Wake County already has the largest school system in the state, with more than 155,000 students, and by 2025, it’s projected that there will be 32,000 new students arriving. For the school board, that translates to a simply undeniable need for 17 additional schools by 2022 — just six years from now.
This, even though the country’s growth is slowing slightly. But it’s hard to know whether there will be a growth spurt or a further slowdown.
The breakdown of the projected need is: 10 new elementary schools, three new middle schools and four new high schools. And, the county still has to find land for eight of them. School officials also have to place the schools strategically, in other words, put them in areas of growth where they’ll be needed. They can’t just look for a good buy on land .
Clearly, county commissioners, who have been supportive of the school system’s needs, must consider bond issues and borrowing in order to meet the needs. There are no other options. The children are coming.
Some of the need will be met, it’s true, by additional charter schools, which have been growing in popularity. But the need remains for conventional schools, which are still the choice of the majority of families in the county. The school system can’t bet on the future of charters, or that charters will continue to grow in popularity. They are a viable option for some families but times and choices can change.
Commissioners understandably worry that a school construction bond referendum and a likely property tax increase could be a tough sell. But time and again, Wake County residents have stood up for public education, recognizing that maintaining good schools is vital to the economic health of the county. The types of high-tech, modern businesses the county seeks to attract — the nearby Research Triangle Park helps with the effort — expect and in fact demand excellent public education for the children of their employees.
In October of 2013, citizens approved a bond issue of $810 million, which is funding a current building program. And the county’s debt ratio is sound and its bond rating at AAA.
A system with an an operating budget of $1.4 billion is a major “business,” and the school system has brought dividends to this community. Bonds for building are not just expenses; they’re investments.
To cut corners, to cut budgets, to advocate “cookie-cutter” schools with bare-minimum facilities and limited curricula is not the way to maintain excellence.