Bond Referenda: A New Hope

A long time ago in a county that may just be your own, Wake County voters approved a bond referendum to support much needed construction and renovation of Wake County public schools.

It was 2013, which may not seem like that long ago, but it is. Wake County Public School System enrollment has grown by more than 8,000 students since 2013. Heck, Wake County itself has grown to more than one million citizens in that time. Growth is certain for WCPSS, but the dark side is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict.

For example, in 2013 WCPSS projected there would be 159,345 students enrolled in the 2015-2016 school year. A change in market forces here, a few company layoffs there, and WCPSS fell about 2,000 students short of that number. Now, it’s time for another bond, but the dark side clouds the future. Estimate enrollment too high and you have schools underutilized. Project too low and some schools experience overcrowding (capped). Fifteen schools will be capped for the 2016-2017 school year in WCPSS. When a school is capped, it means that an enrollment limit has been established. If that enrollment limit is reached, then even families who move into the base attendance area of that school cannot attend there.  They will be offered seats at a nearby school with space.

“The long range trends continue to show between 2,000 and 3,000 or more additional students enrolling in the WCPSS system each year for the foreseeable future,” wrote board member Bill Fletcher in his weekly newsletter. “And don’t forget that more than 25,000 students use more than 1,100 so-called temporary classrooms each day. Many of those TCRs are beyond their useful life and need to be retired.”

Fortunately, there is a new hope.

On February 3, school board members laid out their capital construction needs to Wake County Commissioners. Together, they are working on a long-term, predictable system that would provide more than $2 billion over the next seven years for construction costs. That’s more than $340 million per year. Instead of asking voters to approve multi-million dollar bonds each year or rolling the construction funding needs into much larger bond referendums (approaching $1 billion each) over a delayed schedule, the school board would work directly with county commissioners. The aim is to effectively combat the phantom menace of unpredictable growth in the school system while balancing the impact to taxpayers of larger bond funding and tax increases.

The plan hasn’t hit light speed yet. The Commissioners and Board Members will need to have several more meetings to iron out the details. For now, the plan holds the promise of neutralizing unpredictable growth and finally bringing peace to the galaxy.

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