Nonprofit challenges Wake County school bond

August 8, 2013 3:31:19 PM PDT
A Wake County bond that would provide millions to the county's public schools is coming under fire, months before it is slated to be voted on.

The bond would cover costs of 16 new schools and six major renovations, including technology and security upgrades.  The $810 million bond referendum is set to be put to a vote in October.

The Wake County Taxpayers' Association is the bond's first public challenger. The nonprofit not only opposes the 5 cent tax increase that could come with the bond, but claims it is a waste of taxpayer money. The group says the school district has plenty of classroom space and they would like to see leaders be more efficient with that space.

"They may need money for renovations. Let's talk about that as a separate issue. They may need money for technology, again let's talk about that as a separate issue. Let's not talk about building 16 new schools that they don't need," Wake County Taxpayers' Association member Tony Pecoraro said.

If the bond is passed, it could cost a property owner with a house valued at $200,000 around $100 in yearly taxes.

The school district has about 150,000 students and is growing at a rate of 3,000 students each year.

Based on its calculations, the nonprofit says using more than 600 portable classrooms more efficientyly could provide about 15,000 seats, enough to keep up with the growing student population for at least five more years. The group also claims an increasing number of students turning to private and charter schools will lessen the demand.

"Right now about 17 percent of the kids in Wake County don't go to public schools. They're either home-schooled or go to private schools or charter schools, and that works out to roughly 30,000 kids that are not in the public school," Pecoraro said.

County leaders project an even higher growth rate as the economy continues to improve, which they say will push classrooms to capacity.

The Wake County Taxpayers' Association disputes that argument, saying the school system's projections have been off in the past, and passing the bond would be an unnecessary tax burden.

Marion Robinson co-chairs friends of Wake County, the group tasked with selling the bond to voters.

"They might have been off the last time, but that was because of the economy. A lot of people were not moving into this area as much as they had been in the past at the pace it had been at one particular time. Now things are on the increase again," Robinson said.

Robinson says approving the bond is the responsible thing to do as the county plans for future growth.

"If we pride ourselves in educating our children and we pride ourselves in having great schools, if we pride ourselves in being able to accommodate the children that are here, we must do what is necessary," Robinson said.

The bond is the first since 2006, when taxpayers passed a $970 million referendum on school construction.

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