New School Needs on Par with Last Bond of $1 Billion
The Wake school board’s facility committee heard from staff Tuesday that the district needs 24 new schools, 26 major renovations and a taxpayer-funded bond to pay for them.
The facility needs are comparable to those under the last bond in 2006, for which taxpayers ponied up $970 million dollars. Plan 2006 was calibrated to fund 19 new schools and 14 major projects.
“A $1 billion dollar bond isn’t going to happen,” said facilities chair Chris Malone. “The thought that rolls in my mind is $250, $300 million, maybe as much as $400.”
Malone, a Republican, is following the lead of the GOP-led County Commission, which is loath to put any tax on the ballot for voters.
But the school board is not Republican-led. Democrats hold a 5-4 majority.
“If you want the lowest-cost option you build a bunch of boxes and you say, ‘this many students will fit in this type of box and it doesn’t matter where they come from, we’re going to fill the boxes,’” said Democratic board member Jim Martin.
Martin didn’t mention a specific figure, but did say, “We’re not going to be able to have a bond that covers all of these things.”
The school board and county commission both have to approve the bond amount, which is set to happen around the end of the year.
Facilities planning staff told the board committee that the construction needs are preliminary and will serve the school system through 2016. School system officials predict that without a bond, the district would face a 20,000-seat shortfall by 2016.
Politicians of all stripes wish that the building for the school system could be more sustainable and affordable.
Martin said the school system needs to move away from a “crisis-to-bond, crisis-to-bond funding mechanism.”
But planners have said that some bond money is always used for planning, design and land purchase for future bonds, which points towards a multi-faceted planning process.
Republican County Commissioner Joe Bryan told The News and Observer he’d like to see the price tag for the bond divided up.
“It’d be nice to look at what we have to do over a three or four-year period,” he said in the N&O.
But a four-year plan is exactly what staff handed the board committee. It’s also the length of time the last bond was set to run.
The money for Plan 2006, as it was called, was supposed to run out in 2010. Planning officials say that because growth slowed down with the recession, the district is roughly where it planned to be in regards to the construction of new schools. Major renovations have been put on the back burner.
“We’ve got to, as a community, develop a long-range plan where we’re actually building infrastructure commiserate with our growth,” Martin said.
Wake County has grown faster than most places in the nation, adding as many as 7,500 students during peak growth. Yet the bond previous to 2006, which was put on the ballot in 1999, did not pass.
“Today as a community I’m not sure we’d have the courage to build the Research Triangle Park,” Martin said. “When it was built it was seen as ridiculous expense. But look at what it did today.”
“We need some of that same mentality with our school systems,” he continued. “If we build quality schools, people, jobs and economic development will come.